This was the birding highlight of Tuesday morning’s visit with Katrina to Biddeford Pool.
The first photo was taken shortly after our arrival to The Pool, while the second two -with much more pleasant skies – was taken as we departed around noon. Although its plumage is much more faded and worn now, it is likely that this is the same Snowy that has spent the winter near the western end of mile stretch. Today, it was hunting voles once again on the incoming tide from one of its favorite rooftop perches.
While this was my latest Snowy in Maine, it is far from unprecedented following a massive irruption year. But seeing a Snowy Owl a mere two days away from May is still special; it could be a lifetime before we see an irruption of this magnitude again.
A little further down the road, where the second of the Mile Stretch Snowies overwintered, we found a pile of pellets below one of that bird’s favorite perches. Most were full of small mammal fur and bones, and the skulls were all of voles. One pellet, however, was pure thick, downy feathers – probably from a duck.
But with migration still at a virtual standstill, the rest of the day’s highlights were rather few and far between; very few migrants were around. A pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers around the beach parking lot was a nice, and I had my first House Wren of the year in the neighborhood, and my first Laughing Gull off of East Point. 1-3 Black-crowned Night-Herons were also my personal “FOY’s,” but they have probably been present here for at least a couple of weeks now.
The seas and skies sure looked like winter today, and the raw winds and low temperatures – and Snowy Owl! – sure made it seem more like early March than late April!
But yeah, migration has been kinda slow. Although, interestingly enough, the House Wren and Laughing Gull were right on time for me, most of the usual late April arrivals (Black-throated Green Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, etc) are nowhere to be seen, and really, have I only heard one Blue-headed Vireo so far this season?
We all know spring has been running late this year, and I would say bird migration is now about 7-10 days behind schedule (catching up from the 2-3 weeks behind schedule of early April). Recently, our onshore winds (not conducive to facilitating migration for birds heading north) in this stubborn blocking pattern (a pattern that has seemingly become more and more regular recently) have not helped matters. Here, for example, is the wind map from Sunday, showing the low pressure system just south of Nova Scotia that was pumping in those onshore winds since late last week.
But take a look at today’s wind forecast…
Here we see the massive low pressure system marching across the Great Plains. But now, on the leading edge of it, we see a deep southerly flow, originating all of the way from the Gulf Coast. This southerly flow is expected to last for at least the next 48 hours.
Although the weather will remain unsettled – and we’re about to get a pretty good soaking tonight and tomorrow – through at least the weekend, I would expect quite a few migrants to begin to trickle in over the next few days. Simply put, some birds are running low on time to wait! And, as evidenced by the 73 and 110 raptors tallied passing The Brad over the last two days, respectively, despite easterly winds, it is clear that some birds simply have to make some progress, and will do so when conditions are at least somewhat favorable (or, at least not completely unfavorable).
Furthermore, these deep southerly flows at this time of year can facilitate the arrival of annual spring “overshoots” from the south (see Chapter 4 of my book, How to Be a Better Birder for a full explanation of this phenomenon). When I see weather patterns such as this, I begin to think about things such as Summer Tanagers, Blue Grosbeaks, and Hooded Warblers!
At least potential food sources (insects emerging from ponds; insects attracted to blooming trees) are getting a little chance to catch up before the bulk of migrant birds arrive. This phenology, or timing, of the plant and insect cycle is critical for migrant birds that need to refuel and/or then fuel up for the next leg of their journey. “Weird” weather such as this doesn’t bother birds as much as it bothers us, but it becomes a real problem when the weather results in the lack of specific food sources.
I haven’t seen much in the way of nectar-producing flowers yet – but Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Baltimore Orioles often begin to arrive in the first week of May. This is going to be one of those seasons where well-stocked feeding stations are critically important to migrants, especially those that need insects and nectar. Our hummingbird and oriole feeders are out and ready for business, and our feeder is stocked with insect-laden suet blocks (check out our “Photos from Friends of the Store” gallery on our Facebook Page to see what one particular feeding station in Brunswick has been seeing eating insect suet) and live mealworms. It lies in wait for the first hummers, orioles, or any other migrants in need of assistance…oh yeah, any vagrants from the south, too!