Sunday 30 March 2014

Signs of Spring to Expect: April

Back in late February I made a forecast on what to expect for migrating birds in March on the Avalon. Most of the predictions were more or less correct - except that birds weren't singing as early as I had thought/hoped, mostly because of the below average cold and severe snow storms in the last week of March.

Although the first Horned Larks and Fox Sparrows have been reported, and Northern Fulmars and Black-legged Kittiwakes are loitering around sea cliffs, it certainly doesn't feel like spring yet. Partly because I have been locked up studying all month and haven't seen any of those species this month... that's about to change as I rearrange my priorities ;)

Here is what we can hopefully expect from April:

Ducks will be on nests by the end of the month - hard to believe when there isn't any open water...

Canada Goose - numbers should increase throughout the month. Rare geese are generally not found with them though, so they won't get as much attention as they might deserve.

Common Eider - large concentrations will be a mainstay throughout the month. But most people will have King Eider ticked on their year list, so they won't get the attention they deserve either. King Eider sightings will drop off in early April as they seem to migrate North earlier than the Common Eiders.

Ruffed Grouse - in previous years they have started drumming by mid month, might be a bit later this year though!

Northern Gannet - sightings are starting to trickle in, right on schedule! But it'll be another week and a half until they're "guaranteed" at places like Cape Spear.

Osprey - around April 20th is the first day one is reported every year.

Northern Harrier - they'll start returning within the second week of April and will become continually common on the barrens throughout the rest of the month!

Greater Yellowlegs - the first time hearing that piercing call in the spring is like ecstasy. But it soon becomes annoying when you're trying to listen for other birds.

Wilson's Snipe - the ambitious snipes will start winnowing around the 3rd week of the month. But it'll be another couple weeks until they're "everywhere".

Alcids - they'll be moving in towards the cliffs over the next couple weeks, but it'll take another 2 weeks for large numbers to be around and a mainstay on the cliffs. The first reports of puffins will be in the last 2 weeks of the month.

Ring-billed Gull - they'll become increasingly common and quickly ignored!

Iceland & Glaucous Gull - these guys will silently disappear. New arrivals are always more exciting than lingerers ;)

Arctic Tern - our local breeding terns typically arrive in May; however, those that breed further North are occasionally pushed off course and end up on our shores in late April, a couple weeks ahead of the locals.

Owls - they're already singing! It'll just become more apparent as birders hopefully spend more time listening in the milder evenings.

Barn Swallow - Barn Swallows are usually the first swallows to return. They have been seen in the second quarter of the month, but I expect the first sightings to be after April 20th this year!

Ruby-crowned Kinglet - someone will hear one singing in Newfoundland by the end of the month. Seems unlikely when you look outside today.

American Robin - it's hard to tell whether the robins we're seeing this week are migrants or overwintering birds, but give them another week and you might notice that they seem even more common.

Lapland Longspur - these guys are a much more common migrant on the west coast of the island. But a few might be seen, especially with the migrating Snow Buntings. Probably more likely in the second half of the month versus the first half.

Yellow-rumped Warbler - most will start coming in early May, but a few brave individuals might make it here before April 30th passes.

Savannah Sparrow - they'll be rushing in during that last week of April. Check any of the earlier ones closely to make sure it's not an "Ipswich" sparrow - they seem to migrate a few days ahead of "our" Savannah Sparrows!

Fox Sparrow - reports have already come in. But has anyone heard them singing yet. I don't blame them for not singing... it has been cold. I wish I could say it is supposed to get warmer next week...

Song Sparrow - there isn't much known about the avalon population of Song Sparrows. Do they all overwinter here? Some people think so, I don't though... they probably migrate in unnoticed.
The ones I've heard are probably overwintering ones.

Rusty Blackbird - although they are becoming increasingly rare, I wouldn't be surprised if 1 or 2 are reported in the last week of the month.

--------------------The Important Stuff-----------------------

April is typically when the first rarities start showing up in the year. Start getting excited - but be patient!! Here's a short, but not exhaustive, list of some of the vagrants that have previously shown up in April on the Avalon peninsula:

Greater White-fronted Goose
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Ruddy Duck
Great Blue Heron

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Egrets (Great, Little, Snowy, & Cattle)

European Golden Plover (and a bunch of other Euro shorebirds) - magic date is around April 26th. Keep an eye on those trans-atlantic winds! Or just check back here and I'll let you know if you should start getting scared.

Wood Thrush
Pine Warbler
Summer Tanager - it has happened before in April!

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting

...yeah, there's many more species that should be on that list, but I'm just giving you a flavour.