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Good Birding: Eclipse was a confusing day for owls

Also, trumpeters make way for snow geese and passerines arrive
The Orange-crowned warbler is just revealing its presence with its distinctive trilling song.

There has been much discourse about the effect of the April 8 total eclipse on wildlife and other natural phenomena. My friend, who lives in Dundas, ON, north-east of Niagara Falls, and within the path of totality, was sitting in his garden in the temporary darkness at 3:15 p.m….when an owl suddenly flew by! A very confusing day for owls! 

On the Sunshine Coast, springtime is unfolding in a more predictable pattern with our summer breeding species arriving, and other transient species flying over or through our area to more northerly destinations. There was a very visible passage of trumpeter swans from March 13 to 31 with flocks of over 100 birds observed. Flocks were also observed resting on the water in Trail Bay. Swans are, of course, large white birds with long necks, and they are called trumpeters based on their deep resonant honking calls. Virtually all trumpeter migration is in March, but come April another white, flocking bird takes over, and this is the month of the snow goose. To keep things simple, the last trumpeter flock was reported on March 31, and the first snow geese were observed on April 1. It is rare that things are so neatly demarcated in nature! Snow geese will overfly our area in huge numbers during April, in skeins of hundreds, en route to their breeding destination, Wrangell Island in Siberia. 

Passerines (perching or songbirds) of many species arrive in April and early May. Presently, the colourful yellow-rumped warbler is abundant. Its congener, orange-crowned warbler, is just revealing its presence with its distinctive trilling song, though the birds are a cryptic light green and hard to see. Ruby-crowned kinglets, one of our smallest birds, are extremely abundant and belie their diminutive size with a long, loud, and thrilling song. Rufous hummingbirds have returned from Mexico and the males are performing their kamikaze courtship displays to impress the females. White-crowned sparrows, one of our commonest summer birds, are singing everywhere, while their close relative, the golden-crowned, is common right now, but they are just passing through to points north. Goldfinches are common during summer, and the first birds appeared in early April. 

During the first week of April, all three species of falcons were reported. Kestrels are open-country birds and frequent such areas as the airport during their passage. Merlin, the intermediate sized falcon, nests locally, often in urban type locations such as Sechelt’s Hackett Park. Merlins can be very noisy, announcing their presence with a persistent “kik-kik-kik” call. There was one report of peregrine falcon, the largest of the family. 

One species to watch for during April is Townsend’s solitaire, a grey, robin-sized member of the thrush family that often appears in gardens. 

To report your sightings or questions contact [email protected] or 604-885-5539. Good Birding.