22 September 2014. Cayuga ON. It’s a pet peeve of mine that ‘people’ talk about the “official’ beginning or end of a season. According to these pedants, yesterday the 21st of September, was the end of summer and today the official start of fall; such hogwash! Firstly, in my book, summer is when the weather is nice and warm, winter when it’s cold, spring is when things start to grow again and autumn is when it turns cold and the leaves drop. Secondly, here in the mid latitudes (we’re at 43 degrees north) the seasons can, I admit, reasonably be parceled into 3-month blocks lying between the defined solstice and equinox dates; but if you live in Reykjavik, Louisiana, or Tokyo for that matter, it’s a different matter.
Well, while that was all a rant of little consequence, it’s worth noting that the birds migrate when the time is right. Whether they respond to daylight length, the presence or absence of a certain food or the first snow squalls, who really knows. At the bird observatory we see many species pass through in determinable sequential waves and they never seem to pay any heed to anyone’s official dates, they have their own rhythms.
In the past few days, we’ve seen the odd Broad-winged Hawk pass overhead, the stragglers of a wave of perhaps a quarter of a million that surged through southern Ontario ten days ago, effectively a concentrated wave passing through and now gone south for the winter. Today I encountered the first few White-throated Sparrows of fall, a female Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Slate-coloured Junco, each the advance guard of waves yet to come and go. It’s all a bit like the water draining out of a bath.
I don’t mean to sound dreary even though today’s Bird of the Day, a young Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, was well, drab. Funny thing about sapsuckers is their rather shambolic dress. Whoever dresses them needs to pay more attention to style, coordination and colour accents. As it is, they look rather like a down-on-his-luck widower who’s never sure where he keeps his shirts or socks. Still, despite having no clothes sense, and tending towards reclusiveness they are pretty wonderful birds. I mean, a large part of their diet comprises insects drawn to the sticky secretions of sap around holes that the birds themselves make in the bark of trees; how clever. I got to handle and band today’s young sapsucker and it was, I think, something of a privilege. It certainly knows how to use its feet to hold on tight, and that beak means business. Here area few photos of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers taken at different times and places.