Three Days of Migration Watching in May -Day and Night.

In my blog last Wednesday, I made some prognostications about what we might expect for birds in the coming days. Let’s see how I did so far.

Rain began to fall Wednesday evening, and continued, heavy at times, through Thursday morning. With a persistent easterly wind, overnight migration was non-existent. In the rain on Thursday morning, Katrina and I checked out Florida Lake Park, but found only about 20 Yellow-rumped and 10 Palm warblers – fewer than in recent days. The local River Otter pair, however, put on a great show. Nothing new under the feeders at home (or at the store), either.

Afterwards, I took a spin through the local farms and fields, but found nothing out of the ordinary; it’s too early for most shorebirds anyway. Admittedly, however, I had vagrants on my mind (and still do! As usual). Although the southerly winds conducive to southern overshoots (as I discussed in the aforementioned blog) had yet to kick in, the deep easterly flow that we have been ensconced within could offer up its own surprises. With reports of the “largest incursion of Icelandic/European birds to Newfoundland in recent memory,” including amazing tallies of European Golden-Plovers, 9 Black-tailed Godwits, North America’s 4th (or so) Common Redhank…yeah, the “Rarity Fever” in me can’t help but kick up. Perhaps something will ride one of those Iceland-Portland cargo ships that are in service these days!

Light rain continued through Thursday morning, diminishing to drizzle and fog until the afternoon, when a shift to westerly winds began to clear things out. Overnight, light and variable winds suggested a good migration should occur, but the radar wasn’t showing more than a light flight.
1am radar, 5-2-14  1am velocity, 5-2-14

However, it was foggy for much of the night, and fog can obscure the image of birds on the radar, especially if they are flying low. “Birding by radar” is not infallible, and I had a feeling it might have been a little misleading this morning. A steady trickle of Yellow-rumped Warblers moving over the yard at dawn confirmed this. The weather was just too-not-terrible for there not to be a lot of birds on the go.

So off to Florida Lake I went.  And, for a change this spring, I was not disappointed.  100+ Yellow-rumped Warblers, 20+ Palm Warblers, my first Northern Waterthrush and Black-throated Green Warbler (finally!) of the year, a singing migrant Greater Yellowlegs, and much, much more. I caught the lingering pair of Green-winged Teal copulating; are they going to breed here? Ring-necked Ducks had increased to 16 and there is still a pair of Common Mergansers here.

As the fog burned off, the sun shone brightly, and heat began to rise in swirling thermals, hawks took to the skies on the light westerly wind. I had to pull myself away from the hawkwatch kicking and screaming at 12:30, but by then we had eclipsed (at 10:35) our all-time record count of 4,474 birds when a Merlin streaked by. 388 Broad-winged Hawks and 22 Sharp-shinned Hawks were included in the total of 429 migrant raptors when I departed.

Last night’s passerine migration – yup, the fog on the radar definitely obscured the intensity of the flight! – was still evident well past noon, as Yellow-rumped Warblers were still on the go, reorienting inland after last night’s flight. Well over 200 had passed the summit by the time I departed, as did my first two Chimney Swifts and Eastern Kingbirds (also 2) of the year. And by day’s end, 705 raptors led by 583 Broad-wings were tallied, adding to our record totals. Around 4:00pm, our 5000th raptor had passed – a milestone we never thought we would reach.

Come nightfall, the radar was active once again.  Here are the 1am reflectivity and velocity images for example:
1am radar, 5-3-141am velocity, 5-3-14

Notice the dark greens in the center of the return, but overall the rather narrow diameter of the image?  My guess is that mostly overcast skies and a light westerly winds, perhaps including some turbulence from the passing cold front, kept birds low once again.  But, without fog around, it was certain that this was birds – confirmed by the distance SW-NE pattern of the velocity image, and its speed. I think it was actually a lot of birds.

And come morning, Yellow-rumped Warblers were overhead as I stood on the back porch at dawn, and the Saturday Morning Birdwalk group and I headed over to Florida Lake.  Yeah, it was good.  Very good.

In the past few days, we’ve also finally had the first couple of reports of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Baltimore Orioles, so that those have just begun to arrive.  As I mentioned the other day, food is in short supply for these backyard favorites, so feeders are going to be important for the first arrivals.

But no vagrants from the south, or East …yet!

3 thoughts on “Three Days of Migration Watching in May -Day and Night.

  1. Derek Post author

    A much-less-ambiguous radar image last night (see last two blog posts, linked below) suggested a very good flight was underway, so Katrina and I headed over to Florida Lake first thing this am.

    And yeah, a lot of birds arrived last night. However, overall numbers were surprisingly low at Florida Lake, and concentrations were minimal. Very few birds were reorienting overhead, and there wasn’t much of a mid-morning flight of warblers over Bradbury Mountain as had been in the past few days.

    But new birds were everywhere! It seemed that it was one of those nights with benign conditions (the widespread scattered showers did little to ground migrants, apparently) where birds just dropped into favored habitats and territories.

    So although overall numbers were down, diversity at Florida Lake was great! I finished with 11 species of warblers (my first morning over 6 species this year): 50+ Yellow-rumped; 5 each of Ovenbirds (FOY), Black-and-white, Black-throated Green; only 4 Palms, 3 Northern Parulas, 3 Common Yellowthroats (FOY), and one each of Northern Waterthrush, Pine, Blackburnian (FOY), and Black-throated Blue (FOY).

    Swamp Sparrows increased to 10, Green-winged Teal tripled to 6, 1 Rusty Blackbird was present, but Ring-necked Ducks were down to just 3.

    1. Derek Post author

      Oh, there’s that vagrant from the East!

      I birded the marsh on the afternoon high tide (5/4), often unsuccessfully dodging the rain. Serendipitously, I was already walking up the Eastern Road Trail when Doug Hitchcox found a NORTHERN WHEATEAR – a ridiculously rare bird for spring. This may be one of those “Eastern vagrants” that I wondered about in my last blog, but I can’t help but think it’s as likely to be a northbound bird that overwintered on the wrong side of the “pond.” Regardless, it was a helluva bird. Doug found it – or perhaps more accurately, the bird found him! – along the trail, and we watched it for about 20-30 minutes as it worked its way around the marsh edge to IF&W’s Gervais property off of Mason Libby Road.

      We then combed the pannes, finding lots of shorebirds. 172 Least Sandpipers (FOY) was a very impressive early May tally. My first 50+ Willets of the year were joined by my first 33 Lesser Yellowlegs along with 23 Greater Yellowlegs.

      Wading birds were relatively few, and the ibis were just about all too far to sort through. 75-100 Green-winged Teal were joined by a pair of Blue-winged Teal, and a swallow flock included my first 3 Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Cliff Swallow (1) of the year. A single FISH CROW along the trail was locally rare.

      Elsewhere in the marsh, I added to my tallies of Willets and yellowlegs, while adding my FOY Bank Swallows (3) and Brown Thrasher (1), and a distant raptor in the back corner may have been a Rough-legged Hawk.

  2. Derek Post author

    And now some reports of southern vagrants: a Summer Tanager reported in Waldoboro, and just now, friends of the store brought in photos of another Summer Tanager at their feeders in Georgetown!

    Maybe I should have predicted some lottery numbers this week.


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