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April showers bring new birds

April 17, 2012
The last few days have been pretty good, at least the potential to be good was there.  I thought that I would finally narrow the gap between myself and Al on our big years.   Well, not really, but at least I wanted to keep it interesting.  Warmer weather (it became seasonably cool after that freak warm spell in March), and south-westerlies this time of year means a flood of new migrants pushing north.   This past Sunday, it was worth getting up around sunrise to watch the early morning unfold from the balcony.  Looking toward the Ottawa River, a dark speck materialized above the tree tops, over the buildings, and flying straight at me.  A woodpecker for sure, but in bad light and a less than optimal perspective, I knew it was going to be a tough call.  It went straight over the roof, and I still wasn’t sure, so I swung to the other side of the balcony, just in time to see the bottom of a dip in its undulating flight, and there it was, the white rump of the woodpecker we lovingly call “Whitebutts” or Northern Flickers.   It flew another couple hundred metres over more houses and yards before landing in a tall tree on the edge of Gatineau Park where it start “singing.”  About fifteen minutes later I heard, then saw my first Tree Swallow, high overhead.    That was it for new species, but it was a great start to my Sunday.   Then today, a work day, I awoke to different air, the sticky, sultry air that had flooded in overnight and pushed the thermometer to 15 degrees.  (the mornings had only just started creeping over 0 a few days before).   While preparing breakfast, I looked to the window and there, on the heavily trimmed Japanese Elms just off the balcony were two absolutely stunning Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (males).  They were there posing for us, working their way around the tree for about 5 minutes before flying over the house to the real forest on the other side of the street.  They didn’t have to land in our yard.  They did that for me.  They gave me 36 species, including 5 species of Woodpecker.   It also put a smile on my lips at work, and surely made passers by wonder why I was so happy.
Al has been busy all along.  I should have known this, but in my narcissistic dark moments, I found myself hoping that his work load became so overwhelming, that he was unable to do birding on the wonderful Camp Heidleberg property, but was stuck in his subterranean office, unable to get out until after dark.  Sure he could still add some owls, I thought, but owls would not be enough to match the flood of Gatineau birds.  Today I received this message from Al.   Instead of losing interest, dropping the ball, or being overwhelmed with work, he has picked it up and is running hard for a touchdown.  I’ll let his story do the talking:
“Today I had a Chipping Sparrow to bring my total to 60.  A few recent additions are Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Vesper Sparrow, Myrtle Warbler, Pine Warbler, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Tree Swallow, and Swamp Sparrow…  I managed to get both Eastern Screech and Great Horned Owls one evening, but no Woodcocks seem to use the property for breeding. I looked at the list from last year and compared it to this year.  Based on that I should be able to get 109 without much trouble, as long as I detect the same number of warbler species as last year.  It is pretty cool to compare lists from 2011 and 2012 at this point – the majority of migrants have not yet returned, but 60% of my species have already been detected.  I am not sure what will be next, but my guess would be Eastern Kingbird or Broad-winged Hawk.
Your totals sound great and I am impressed some of the species you have gotten from your place!
Species you were dreaming of, eh? …  I do not yet have Great Egret, but I think I would dream up a Yellow-billed Cuckoo for this year.  It is a possibility, for sure.”
OK, wait and see Al.  My next species will either be a Great Blue Heron or a Brown-headed Cowbird!  That is my prediction.
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