As winds finally change, spring birds flood in

Bruce Mactavish
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The two weeks of northeast winds that brought so much excitement to the world of birdwatchers in the form of Icelandic visitors had a dark side. It blocked normal everyday birds from migrating to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Yellow-rumped warblers are the first of the many species of warblers to arrive back in the spring. They are also the most numerous and easiest to see. — Photo by Bruce Mactavish/Special to The Telegram

When the winds finally wheeled around to the southwest on May 9 and 10, the migrants flooded in. It was like a dam of migrant birds had burst.

On the Avalon Peninsula, we went suddenly from no warblers to plenty of yellow-rumped warblers plus a few palm and black-and-white warblers.

The ethereal tingling of the hermit thrush singing could be heard in the woods again. Even a few swallows returned.

Yes, spring was indeed going to happen again, although we certainly had our doubts.

A good place to get a sampling of what birds are back is the trail system in Bidgood’s Park at the corner of Back Line and Powers Road in Goulds.

There is a nice cross section of typical Avalon Peninsula woodland here. There is an open wetland. There are foot bridges and a myriad of walkways to keep it interesting for walkers.

I went there Sunday morning to get my sampler of the spring birds. It was the first warm day of the spring with temperatures in the double digits. Insects were flying about; still none of the biting kind.

The place was alive with singing birds. The musical trill of yellow-rumped warblers floated through the woods. They were back in force. A less common palm warbler sang its buzzy song from a hidden perch low in the dead trees on the edge of the bog.

Robins were pouring out a beautiful wall of background music. It was heartwarming to hear the clear simple whistled song of the white-throated sparrow.

Swamp sparrow sang their own kind of trill hidden somewhere in the bog. Snipes were doing their thing, including winnowing overhead and calling out with sharp loud snipe calls.

A bittern ever so cautiously pumped out its bizarre spring sound. It seemed a little hesitant and subdued. They often wait until darkness to let it all hang out.

Song sparrows, living up to their name, were in their glee, marking their territories with song. A flock of three common grackles flew through without stopping. But a rusty blackbird, the smaller cousin of the grackle, did stop long enough to utter a few squeaky hinge songs before flying on.

There were other birders walking about the trails collecting new birds for their 2014 year list. But the real reason for so many birders was the little star bird that showed up the day before. Lisa de Leon and Margie MacMillian found an eastern phoebe. It was a new bird for them and many of the people who came to view it.

This drab little flycatcher has a very distinctive heart-warming song. It sings its name, “fee-bee.” Eastern phoebes are a mainland species. A few probably nest in the southwest corner of the province but it is a rare bird at any time in eastern Newfoundland.

Having singing a phoebe is an extra treat. The poor bird is not likely to find a mate, but for the time being it thinks it has found the perfect home to entice a female phoebe.

Phoebes like to nest under bridges. This one has a little territory set up around two bridges over a nice little creek. It could sing here for a week or two before it realizes it is not going to attract a mate and then moves on.

Other signs of spring

In the last week, you may have noticed some birds with grass or twigs in their beaks.

These birds are in the middle of building nests.

Juncos, robins and starlings are heavily into nest building this week. You may have noticed in the media that the bald eagle nest on Signal Hill has three hatchlings.

Eagles nest earlier than most birds. Ravens, grey jays and great horned owls will also have young in the nest by this time of year. Local nesting ducks are forming bachelor groups as most females are sitting on a nest right now. The first broods of ducklings are usually noticed by the long weekend in May.

Spring migration accelerates during the last half of May as most warblers, flycatchers, swallows and other insect eaters return. Meanwhile, the volume of birds singing in the morning grows.

I laugh a little to myself when people complain about how early the birds start singing in the morning. You can expect the dawn chorus of birds to start 30 minutes before sunrise.

Right now official sunrise is 5:30 a.m. meaning the birds will be warming up at 5 a.m. and going full force by sunrise. If it is a nice, warm, calm morning you can expect a full blown concert without intermissions until maybe 9 a.m.

Personally, I enjoy every phrase of bird song I can hear while still in bed. This long weekend is forecasted to be very warm. Cabin goers can expect to be surrounded by a full orchestra of birds every morning. No breaks on Sundays, either.

Every day is a work day for birds in the springtime. Enjoy the natural music.

Bruce Mactavish is an environmental

consultant and avid birdwatcher. He can be reached at, or by phone at 722-0088.

Geographic location: Bidgood, Powers Road, Goulds.There Eastern Newfoundland.Having Signal Hill

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