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Explosion of Color

By Sam Wainright and Michael LaCombe

(For complete bird lists, please see Bird Lists 2019.)

Spring bird migration is in high gear! New species arrive, and old friends depart, every day. We give two examples.

First the arrivals… Today at Ice Pond, we saw 6 species of warblers: Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Black and White, Northern Parula, American Redstart, and Magnolia. A weather front moved through the area the day before, and there was a “fallout”. What is a fallout? Migrating birds often interrupt their migration and “fall out” of the sky due to poor flying conditions. On the opposite shore of Ice Pond, darting out from their tree perches in pursuit of tiny insects these birds appear to behave like large insects. First one, then another, until you notice that the entire shoreline is alive with activity. If you sit still long enough, they begin to ignore your presence and fly right past you. You then realize that they are really tiny colorful birds, about the size of a chickadee but more slender, some with bright patches of yellow, blue, or red.

Black-throated Green Warbler Black-throated Blue Warbler Black and White Warbler

Northern Parula Warbler American Redstart Magnolia Warbler

Up the road, at Tolman Heights, an Ovenbird, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and a Wilson’s Warbler dart in and out of view.


Photo © Sam Wainright

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Photo © Sam Wainright

Wilson's Warbler

Photo © Sam Wainright

Earlier this week, we witnessed another fallout; the same species as above minus the redstart, but with the addition of a species with a different color pattern…this was the Blackburnian Warbler, wearing a black and white pinstriped suit and looking as if its head had been dunked in orange paint. While we were watching the orange-blast of color,

Blackburnian Warbler

a Belted Kingfisher’s distinctive call announced its return from its southern winter home.

Belted Kingfisher

Photo © Michael LaCombe

Other creatures making their spring debut at Ice Pond included a variety of flying insects (warbler food), painted turtles and a nine-inch snapping turtle. Considering last summer’s construction project on the pond’s dam, the presence of turtles is good news.

Elsewhere on the island, Osprey, Glossy Ibis, Eastern Phoebe,

Scarlet Tanager,

Scarlet Tanager Photo © Sam Wainright

House Wren and Rose-breasted Grosbeak have all returned for the breeding season. A magical aspect of breeding season is the symphony of bird songs. It can seem like a mish-mash of competing sounds, but each species makes distinctive calls to attract mates, announce its presence to both friends and competitors, and warn of danger.

Second the departures...Departing birds include a number of seabirds. Surveys in recent weeks from the PI Ferry show large declines in Long-tailed Duck and Common Loon as they depart for their breeding grounds in tundra ponds and northern forest lakes, respectively. Along the backshore, Black Scoter and White-winged Scoter have mostly disappeared. The Great Cormorant, which throughout the winter had been roosting at night on Whitehead Cliffs, have gone back north, replaced by large numbers of Double-crested Cormorants from the south. Our departing species presumably are informed by their instincts that their breeding grounds further north are ready for them. The Great Cormorants departed earlier than the scoters because latter breed in arctic freshwater lakes, which remain frozen later than coastal waters where cormorants breed.

Enjoy the return of our familiar summer birds, which miraculously navigate here from their winter homes as far south as Central and South America each year! Keep your eyes and ears open for the arrival of additional species, such as thrushes and orioles, as the spring migration unfolds.

Reviewed by Patty Wainright and Marty Braun

Welcome to

The Backshore Bird Blog


The objective of The Backshore Bird Blog is to share the wonder and diversity of bird species seen along the Peaks Island shore.

If you like birds...

take a look at our list of the 100 varieties of birds that have been spotted around the Island here. How many can you spot?

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