Tag Archives: Sandy Point Beach

A Record-Shattering 5 Days at Sandy Point!

NOPA
Northern Parulas were certainly the “bird of the week” at Sandy Point.

It was a special five-day run at Sandy Point Beach on Cousin’s Island in Yarmouth. It was a record-shattering run in fact, in which I tallied nearly 18,000 migrants engaging in the “Morning Flight,” or “morning re-determined migration” when nocturnally-migrating passerines relocate (to drastically oversimplify things) come sunrise.
SandyPoint_sunrise,9-13-17

(To learn more about Sandy Point, check out the site entry in Birdwatching in Maine: A Site Guide, and for more on nocturnal migration, interpreting the radar, and the “morning flight” phenomena, check out Chapter 5 in my first book, How to Be a Better Birder. Whaddya mean you don’t have these two books!?)

I’ve had a handful of four-day runs, but I cannot think of a time when conditions were favorable – and I was actually present, and not leading tours on Monhegan for example – for five straight days. But I have most certainly never had five days like this!

I recorded 72 species “deemed migrating” through here, not including migrants that were in the bushes, such as the Gray Catbirds and Song Sparrows that are so abundant in the brush here. It does not include species like Osprey, in which some of the many I saw this week were likely southbound, but impossible to separate from the still-locals. And this tally did not include all of the waterbirds, from Common Eiders to herds of dabbling American Black Ducks, and from Bald Eagles to hunting Great Blue Herons, as well as resident species.

I tallied 25 species of warblers, including a single Connecticut Warbler, one of the most sought-after parulids in Maine. A Northern Mockingbird was only my 5th ever noted here, and two passing Dickcissels are always a treat. But certainly the icing on the cake of this great week was the Lark Sparrow found by the group in the parking lot on the relatively quiet morning of 9/13. This was a first record for Sandy Point, and my personal 184th species here.
LASP, Becky

But it was the morning of the 11th that will go down in Sandy Point history!  8,185 migrants was not only a new record, but almost doubled the previous record (4,346 on Sept 21, 2010). It was incredible. More on that epic morning later.

A number of records for high counts for individual species were set, and I am sure even more would have been shattered if I had a higher rate of identification during the onslaught of the 11th.   Other trends, typical of the season, were evident, such as the slow but steady change in the composition of the flight. The early migrants like Magnolia Warblers were giving way to a growing percentage of Yellow-rumped Warbles and Blackpoll Warblers for example. But it sure seems like we’re not yet running our of Yellow Warblers and American Restarts, however!
AMRE
immature male American Redstart

YWAR
Yellow Warbler, adult male

So first, here’s the numbers (bold font indicates a new daily record).

 9/9 9/10 9/11 9/12 9/13
Blue-winged Teal 3 0 0 0 0
Unidentified teal 0 0 4 0 0
Surf Scoter 3 0 0 0 0
Common Loon 4 0 0 3 0
Northern Harrier 0 1 0 0 0
Killdeer 0 1 0 0 0
Lesser Yellowlegs 0 0 0 1 0
Mourning Dove 0 1 0 1 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2 0 0 1 1
Hairy Woodpecker 0 1 0 0 0
Northern Flicker 1 256 68 26 12
Pileated Woodpecker 0 1 0 1 0
American Kestrel 0 0 3 0 1
Merlin 1 1 0 1 2
Eastern Wood-Pewee 3 4 0 0 0
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1 0 0 0 0
“Traill’s” Flycatcher 2 0 0 0 0
Least Flycatcher 9 11 3 2 0
Unidentified Empidonax 5 0 0 1 0
Eastern Phoebe 1 3 2 2 2
Eastern Kingbird 2 1 0 0 0
Unidentified flycatcher 6 1 1 0 0
Blue-headed Vireo 1 3 1 2 0
Philadelphia Vireo 3 4 2 1 0
Red-eyed Vireo 42 49 30 9 4
Unidentified vireo 1 2 0 0 0
Blue Jay 0 0 0 2 5
Barn Swallow 1 0 0 0 0
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1 1 2 1 0
Golden-crowned Kinglet 0 0 0 1 0
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2 1 5 4 0
Swainson’s Thrush 10 0 0 2 0
American Robin 4 3 1 2 0
Unidentified thrush 0 1 0 0 0
Northern Mockingbird 0 1 0 0 0
Cedar Waxwing 21 265 377 54 0
Ovenbird 0 0 0 0 1
Northern Waterthrush 0 0 0 1 0
Black-and-white Warbler 33 59 41 32 5
Tennessee Warbler 4 2 2 8 0
Nashville Warbler 8 8 10 4 0
CONNECTICUT WARBLER 1 0 0 0 0
Mourning Warbler 0 1 0 0 0
Common Yellowthroat 2 1 5 5 2
American Redstart 602 550 844 119 16
Cape May Warbler 18 5 8 5 0
Northern Parula 705 630 692 612 205
Magnolia Warbler 66 117 32 23 2
Bay-breasted Warbler 5 3 1 1 0
Blackburnian Warbler 7 6 1 0 0
Yellow Warbler 19 52 38 67 8
Chestnut-sided Warbler 5 2 0 2 0
Blackpoll Warbler 9 3 27 25 35
Black-throated Blue Warbler 8 7 4 4 0
Palm Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
“Western” Palm Warbler 1 0 0 0 0
Pine Warbler 0 0 0 1 0
Yellow-rumped Warbler 3 6 3 19 11
Prairie Warbler 1 2 1 1 0
Black-throated Green Warbler 118 63 73 57 26
Canada Warbler 6 0 1 0 0
Wilson’s Warbler 12 17 7 4 0
Chipping Sparrow 2 0 1 3 1
LARK SPARROW 0 0 0 0 1
White-throated Sparrow 1 0 0 0 0
Savannah Sparrow 2 0 0 0 0
Scarlet Tanager 1 1 4 1 0
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 3 1 0 0 0
Indigo Bunting 0 0 1 1 0
DICKCISSEL 0 0 1 0 1
Bobolink 1 2 0 0 0
Red-winged Blackbird 1 2 0 0 0
Rusty Blackbird 0 1 0 0 0
Baltimore Oriole 2 1 1 1 1
House Finch 0 0 0 1 1
Purple Finch 0 0 0 8 0
American Goldfinch 5 12 3 6 4
Unidentified 1915 1887 5893 737 192
TOTAL 3705 4057 8185 1866 540

 

Now, let’s take a look at the radar. Here are the density and velocity images from 1am (as a sample) on 9/9 and 9/10. That’s a ton of birds on the radar.
1amRadar,9-09-17
1amVelocity,9-09-17

1amRadar,9-10-17
1amVelocity,9-10-17

And even as late as 4:00am on each day, a lot of birds were visible, and a lot of birds were offshore.
4amRadar,9-09-17
4amRadar,9-10-17

The night of 9/8 through 9/9 featured light westerly winds, shifting to northwest by sunrise. And on the next night, light north winds became northwest overnight. Both, as expected, produced great flights over and through Sandy Point some dawn.

Weather patterns, especially at this time of year, rarely produce three great nights for migrants in a row. And when they do, it often results in fewer birds overnight (and therefore at Sandy Point) come sunrise; essentially, the well temporarily runs dry.

And as you can see by the 1:00am radar image from September 11th, the density was nowhere near the previous two nights, despite mostly light westerly winds overnight.
1amRadar,9-11-17
1amVelocity,9-11-17

And by 4:00am, it was rather quiet.
4amRadar,9-11-17

Light northwesterly winds in the evening slowly gave way to light north, before becoming light and variable. After midnight, they became west but didn’t really increase until after 2:00am. Coupled with a lackluster radar return, this was not a recipe for a huge flight.

Nonetheless with a light westerly wind at sunrise, I was heading to Sandy Point anyway. If only because it was a day off, and I won’t have many more chances to visit “my office” this month. A milky sunrise further clouded (sorry) my optimism for a big flight, but there were plenty of birds in the air.
Sunrise_on_big_day_atSP,9-11-17

And then all hell broke loose.

It was incredible. It was frustrating. It was beautiful. It was painful. It was amazing. It was indeed overwhelming, and at times, my only hopes at quantifying the flood was to skip attempting identification and just click my unidentified clicker as fast as I could.

And I really can’t explain it. It “shouldn’t” have been this amazing.

Come nightfall, with high pressure remaining in control, and with light westerly winds and clear skies once again, a moderate to strong flight occurred overnight. Here are the 1:00am and 4:00am radar images from the wee hours of 9/12:
1amRadar,9-12-17
1amVelocity,9-12-17

4amRadar,9-12-17

With light westerly winds come dawn, I was once again stationed at the bridge, and what was – prior to three days ago! – considered a very good flight passed over and through. It was even downright relaxing – and manageable – after the chaos of the previous morning. I had fun.

Not surprisingly, after four consecutive nights, the flight was much lighter overnight on the 12th into the 13th, as evidenced once again by the 1:00am and 4:00am images.
1amRadar,9-13-17
1amVelocity,9-13-17

4amRadar,9-13-17

And despite very light westerly winds in the morning, and clear skies, only a light flight was to pass through the point. Of course, that Lark Sparrow more than made up for it. It was also nice to enjoy a slower flight – and identify many more birds than not!

So almost every morning made sense: radar plus weather conditions correctly predicted the intensity of the flight. Except for one. The Big One. And I can’t explain it. But, I am OK (mostly) with that – it’s one of the fascinating and flabbergasting aspects of documenting the morning redetermined migration!

Winds turned to the south during the day on the 13th, and continued light and southerly overnight, bringing the streak of five great nights of migration to an end. Come morning, I also slept in – relatively speaking – and then went for a massage. As my therapist began to work on my aching neck, she simply uttered, “Wow” and got to work. I felt the same on Monday morning when the greatest flight I have ever recorded passed through Sandy Point.

IMG_6455-edited-edited
Species, such as this Swainson’s Thrush, that can be rather secretive in migration, are sometimes seen really well at Sandy Point!

Two Fun Mornings at Sandy Point

_MG_9884_edited-2

With a busy tour and travel schedule once again this fall (every year I say I will schedule fewer things in my favorite season to bird in Maine!), my time at Sandy Point is at a premium.  Since it takes certain conditions to make birding here worthwhile, I get quite excited when conditions line up for a good flight.

I was very anxious to arrive at “my office” on Tuesday morning.  Moderate northerly winds overnight turned to the northwest, resulting in an exceptional flight over and through SandyPointBeach come dawn.  Here is the morning’s scorecard:

-6:23-10:45am.
-37F, Clear, Light northwest, increasing.
-Jenny Howard and Jeannette Lovitch assisting with the count.

1195 Unidentified
984 Northern Flickers (*2nd highest count)
703 Northern Parula (*New high count; old record only 234!)
391 Cedar Waxwings (*New high count)
153 American Redstarts
152 Blackpoll Warblers
145 Black-throated Green Warblers (*2nd highest count).
101 Broad-winged Hawks (*New high count)
35 Yellow Warblers
28 Black-and-white Warblers
23 Yellow-rumped Warblers
21 Red-eyed Vireos
19 Magnolia Warblers
17 Swainson’s Thrushes (*ties high count)
16 Eastern Phoebes (*New high count)
12 Nashville Warblers
11 American Goldfinches
9 American Robins
9 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (*New high count)
7 Palm Warblers
7 Scarlet Tanagers
6 Common Loons
6 White-throated Sparrows (in bushes; no crossings)
5 Tennessee Warblers
5 Common Yellowthroats (in bushes; no crossings as usual)
4 Cooper’s Hawks (*New high count)
4 Unidentified vireos
4 Blue Jays
3 Ospreys
3 Least Flycatchers
3 Unidentified empids
3 Philadelphia Vireos
3 Chestnut-sided Warblers
3 Blackburnian Warblers
3 Bay-breasted Warblers
3 Black-throated Blue Warblers
3 Chipping Sparrows
3 Rusty Blackbirds (first of season)
2 Sharp-shinned Hawks
2 American Kestrels
2 Bald Eagles
2 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
2 Golden-crowned Kinglets
2 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
2 Cape May Warblers
2 European Starlings (first time I have “deemed them migrating”)
2 Dark-eyed Juncos
1 Red-tailed Hawk
1 Northern Harrier
1 Unidentified small falcon
1 Eastern Wood-Pewee
1 “Traill’s” Flycatcher
1 Blue-headed Vireo
1 Red-breasted Nuthatch
1 NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (6 false-starts before apparently crossing)
1 Pine Warbler
1 CONNECTICUT WARBLER (3rd of the season as Tom Johnson and Jenny Howard had one here on 9/15 as well)
1 Northern Waterthrush
1 Red-winged Blackbird
1 Purple Finch
1 Monarch butterfly

Total= 4,134 (*2nd highest count of all time!)

Simply put: wow!  That was one heck of a flight.  In fact, it was downright overwhelming at times – flocks of flickers, waves of warblers, packs of waxwings.  It was almost too much to count, and thankfully, Jenny Howard agreed (OK, so maybe I didn’t exactly ask, but beg) to tally flickers for the busiest part of the morning for me. That helped a whole lot.

After a flood like yesterday morning, I am not disappointed by the slow, but steady trickle through the point this morning.  It was a more manageable number to count, with quite a few birds lower than yesterday, and often only a few at a time; it was easier to sort through.

Here’s this morning’s scorecard, then, we’ll compare the different flights as viewed on the radar.
– 6:21-9:05
– 41F, Clear, Calm becoming very light west.

265 Northern Parulas (*2nd highest count)
202 Unidentified
54 Black-throated Green Warblers
45 Northern Flickers
32 Cedar Waxwings
32 American Redstarts
26 Yellow-rumped Warblers
17 Yellow Warblers
14 American Robins
14 Blackpoll Warblers
13 Blue Jays
10 Red-eyed Vireos
7 Nashville Warblers
6 Eastern Phoebes
6 Black-and-white Warblers
4 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
4 Tennessee Warblers
4 Palm Warblers
4 Wilson’s Warblers
4 Chipping Sparrows
3 Common Loons
3 American Kestrels
3 Blue-headed Vireos
3 Chestnut-sided Warblers
3 Common Yellowthroats
2 Unidentified empids
2 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
2 Swainson’s Thrushes
2 Black-throated Blue Warblers
2 Magnolia Warblers
2 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks
2 Baltimore Orioles
2 American Goldfinches
1 Peregrine Falcon
1 Solitary Sandpiper
1 Least Flycatcher
1 “Traill’s” Flycatcher
1 Unidentified flycatcher
1 Philadelphia Vireo
1 Unidentified vireo
1 White-breasted Nuthatch
1 Prairie Warbler
1 Scarlet Tanager
1 Purple Finch

Total: 801

I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this good.  And despite really only a “good” flight, parulas had their second highest tally – I didn’t think there would be any left after yesterday’s flight!  And yes, this more manageable flight was more “enjoyable,” if considerably less awe-inspiring.

So, what made me have lower expectations for today?  Let’s go to the radar!

First, the massive flight overnight Monday into Tuesday that led to all of the records yesterday.  I have included the 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am radar and velocity images:
a b c d e f g h

Combined, these images show a very strong flight all night long, with a lot of birds offshore come twilight, and likely a lot of birds arriving at the coast come dawn.  Looking at that image when I went to bed, and when I awoke, coupled with the light northwesterly winds all night left no doubt that things would be hopping at Sandy Point.  And, as we now know, there most certainly was. If you see a radar image that looks like this – go birding in the morning!

In fact, it was a good day all-around for migrants, and everywhere we looked up yesterday, raptors were on the move.

winds, 110am,9-17-13

Now, let’s take a look a the radar and velocity images from 10pm, 12am, 2am, and 4am last night:
i j k l m n o p

As night fell Tuesday night, clear and mostly calm conditions let birds take to the air once again – but not nearly as many as the night before. Notice how much smaller the area of return is, and how much less dense? Meanwhile, the velocity image was much less distinctly fast-moving, north-to-south as the previous night (of course, with little to no wind, the ground speed of the birds would be less anyway) – a little more ambiguous than the night before.  Furthermore, with a forecast for westerly winds (not as good as northwesterly), and the chance that they would become southwesterly by dawn, I did consider skipping Sandy Point this morning, but with the rest of the week looking even less productive, I knew I had to give it a go.

And, obviously, I am glad that I did.  But upon returning to the store, and checking those above radar images once again, I find it a bit odd that the radar image (small in diameter, but very dense) did not translate to a more distinct velocity image.  Perhaps there was a lot of slow-moving stuff up there (insects, pollen, dust, etc) that clouded the motion of the birds.  Either way, it was a good night for flying, and if it’s a good night for flying, it’s a good morning to be at Sandy Point!