May 4 2016 Long Point Ontario. This was one of those big days. With two companions I went birding to Long Point, one of Ontario’s premier birding destinations. Long Point is an elongated sand-spit that reaches out into Lake Erie to catch the north-bound spring migrants. I started a tally of birds seen as soon as we left home and ended the day with seventy-seven species; a very respectable number. Oddly, we did not see a Mallard all day, not that we were looking for them but it was a conspicuous absence. If I gave it more thought I’m sure there would be other common-but-unaccountably-missed species.
There is a very busy Bird Studies Canada bird observatory at Long Point, visitors are welcome to watch them at work as they band birds caught in an extensive array of mist nets. We, and many others, stopped to see what sort of a bird day they were having; it was, they said, the best day of the year so far. I avoid clogging these postings with long lists of birds but I can hardly let the day go by without sharing our excitement at seeing: Ovenbird, Hooded, Black and White, Palm, Nashville and Black-throated Green Warblers. For one of our group it was his first experience of the Colour Guard rush of May and he was justifiably choked with astonishment to find a male Scarlet Tanager in full-on hot scarlet. I think the Scarlet Tanager probably achieves the pinnacle of colour intensity among any bird species I know; the red is like a campfire ember in its fierce intensity, so intense that my camera struggles to register it. The deep coal-black of its wings and tail emphasizes the scarlet. It is a prize at any time.
Our day list included many other new migrant arrivals: Chimney Swift, Brown Thrasher, Warbling Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, White-crowned Sparrows and Blue-headed Vireo among them. We stopped at some open water and added Sandhill Cranes, Bald Eagles, Ring-necked Ducks, Marsh Wren and somewhat astonishingly, Common Gallinule to our tally.
Common Gallinule was until recently considered as one and the same species as the Common Moorhen of Europe. Those who’d rather analyze DNA in a lab than go birding have decided that the two are no longer the same species, that there are enough differences in voice and bill morphology to declare two species where formerly there was one. I know the moorhen from my English childhood, the gallinule is uncommon here although reasonably widespread south of us but best described as wide-ranging, scattered and locally changeable.
On such a blockbuster day it is hard to pick out a single Bird of the Day, but I think the Common Gallinule takes it – although a Chimney Swift and a Nashville Warbler were every bit as exciting to welcome back. Here’s a Common Gallinule (or Common Moorhen as it was then known) photographed in South Carolina several years ago.