Ever since I got into birding, and as I learned more about them; I began to not use the calendar to rely upon seasonal changes. I don't need an exact date told to me by anyone when spring, summer, autumn or winter is here. All I need to do is look for the signs and listen to the sounds right outside the kitchen window.
Let us roll through a year together, using my backyard as the example...
They've always told me that the American Robin is the first sign of spring. Some years ago that was very true. Nowadays, many of the Robins do not fly south anymore. I see them all winter long, just deeper in the forests, near my house.
Personally for me these days, the first true sign of spring is the arrival of the Red Winged Blackbirds. They fly south every fall between late September thru late October, and begin returning at some point in March. Their familiar calls and flashy red banded wings are a welcoming sound/sight after a long Canadian winter.
My summer bird is the return of the Baltimore Orioles. A stunning visual for sure. The males look like fireballs as they fly low across the grounds. Their first sightings are earlier than what our calendar defines the arrival of summer; usually 3 to 4 weeks prior. As it goes here in Toronto, we can get some very extreme summer weather in the first week of June. I know this for a fact because there is an annual car show, the first Saturday of every June. My friend and I have not gone the last two years because of the weather being up around +40c with the humidity. So, I end up sitting at home, staying in the shade out back, keeping cool and watching my feathered friends, including a pair of Orioles who have stopped in the last 3 years (so far). They do go further along in their journey to where they nest, as they disappear for up to two months during the summer season. Although last year I believe they nested much closer since they were seen more often.
Here in Toronto, people often say "Summer is over when the Canadian National Exhibition opens in late August". Which I can agree upon and I used that as an awareness to the end of the season for some years after I graduated high school. During school years it was Labor Day. Now though, I definitely know summer is coming to a close as the Orioles pass through once again in late August. They will be around daily for up to ten days before they are gone again until the following year.
The first true signs for me that autumn is here are when I begin to see large flocks of Red Winged Blackbirds and the Common Grackle (pictured below). An afternoon in mid-September can have the backyard filled with 40 to 50 Grackles. They, as many other birds, have some very distinct sounds. I would say that a few of their noises are almost machine-like. It's a peanut scramble out in the back as I toss handful after handful to assist them all in their long journey ahead. They never spend the night and within a day or two another flock will show up and it goes like this for at least two weeks.
So, here we are now in October of a calendar year, the leaves are changing and falling to the ground. We have frost one morning and +25c in the afternoon. People get confused. What season is it now? The calendar says fall but there are so many changes in the weather. Up and down it goes. Deep down we know it's only a matter of time before it stays cold constantly. The calendar says winter arrives officially on December 21st of every year. For me, I call it winter when I first see the next bird below, which is the Dark Eyed Junco (tuxedo bird). When do they arrive? Last year my first sightings were the third week of October. The year prior it was the end of November. Years before that were anywhere in between.
The Juncos prefer cooler climates. It's hard to believe this is "flying south" for them. I am believing they probably spread out more in the winter months as part of their survival and search for food.
I hope with this blog, that maybe someone out there reading this will have learned something and perhaps at sightings of some of the birds I have mentioned, they will think back to this post.