Friday, October 14, 2016

Fri-D: Blackpoll Warbler

[Blackpoll Warbler, Cape May NJ, October 14, 2016. Click to enlarge photos.]

Today, Friday October 14, 2016, it was a blackpoll morning in Cape May, a tad late in the season for thousands of these amazing long-distance migrants to still be passing through, but there they were. Yellow-rumped Warblers out-numbered Blackpolls, but certainly won't outdistance these long-distance migrants, some of which fly from Alaska to the Canadian Maritimes, then over the ocean to South America in a flight that takes as long as 88 hours non-stop!

Blackpolls are the classic greenish-yellow wing-barred confusing fall warbler things that trouble more than one good birder. The photo above is a tad more difficult than even the usual fall warbler, because I took it during the low-angle sunlight of dawn. This means the bird looks slightly yellower than it is.

One favorite approach to bird i.d. is to ask, "Why isn't it a . . .?" With Blackpoll, the why isn'ts are Bay-Breasted and Pine Warblers, both of which are less common where I live than Blackpoll. There are other why isn'ts, like Blackburnian or Cerulean, but they're easier to sort out.

So why isn't it a Pine Warbler? The obvious back streaks are a good go-to here, though structure helps if you are familiar with both birds. Blackpolls are slimmer than Pines and have finer bills and much longer wings, manifested by primary feather tips sticking way out past the tertial feathers.

Why isn't it a Bay-breasted? This is the toughest similar species to Blackpoll, plus everybody wants it to be a Bay-breasted since they're scarcer. The warm light in this photo temps one to call Bay-breasted, because the flanks look slightly yellow or even bay. But: the undertail coverts are contrasting bright white, the wing bars are too narrow, it has obvious streaking below, it lacks a contrasting light collar on the nape, and if you don't like those reasons, it has yellow feet (Bay-breasted has dark feet.)

 Above, Blackpoll in morning flight. Contrasting yellow in front/white behind below, zeep flight call (annoyingly shared by several other warblers), and, a fine point, FAST, as you would expect from a long-distance migrant. If you're lucky enough to be in the middle of a warbler morning flight, and a bird starts passing everybody, think about Blackpoll.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Thoughtful Thursday: Faith

[Ruby-crowned Kinglet, all 6.5 grams of it (about the weight of a quarter) migrates in Cape May, NJ, October 4, 2016. Click to enlarge.]

“The reason birds can fly and we can't is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.” 
― J.M. Barrie, The Little White Bird [Barrie also created Peter Pan]

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Off to South America

[Basic plumage male Scarlet Tanager, Cape May, NJ, October 5, 2016. Click to enlarge.]

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Angels, Smoke Signals, and the Beginning of the End

[Yellow Warbler in morning flight, October 4, 2016 along Delaware Bay, NJ. It's the beginning of the end for this species for the remainder of fall.]

Angels. That's what meteorologists and defense workers called these then-strange signals showing up on radar at night when it was clear there was no precipitation involved. It was a real national security problem during an era when aerial attacks on the U.S. had happened (Pearl Harbor) and could happen again.

Then, in the 1950's, meterologists and ornithologists figured it out. The angels are birds. The linked article is worth a look.

[Velocity radar from Dover Air Force Base, DE last night at 1:00 a.m. EDT. It was not raining, and the radar shows motion towards the radar (blue colors) and movement away (red colors), along with speed in knots as depicted on the right side of the graphic.]

By 1:00 a.m., any nocturnal migrant bird that is going to migrate this day is in the air, so that's a good time to check the radar.  And migration was on last night, warblers and others in the thousands, and thousands were seen this morning in morning flight at Higbee Beach, Cape May NJ, and other points, e.g. my favorite watch points along the Delaware Bay.

In contrast, above is the 1:00 a.m. radar from the night before last, showing pretty much jack sh. . . .I mean, there wasn't much flying, and instead of the 3500+ warblers I counted this morning, yesterday (Monday October 3) I counted 32.

[Above, nationwide radar last night at 1:00 a.m. EDT. It was rocking in the eastern half of the country on northeast winds, and on the fact that, hey, it's October, we've got to go.]

[Lightning struck twice on the bayshore, as the Western Kingbird, very likely the one that showed up here last week, and then moved down to Cape May for a few days, reappeared before continuing north past Norbury's Landing.]

[Above, my FOS (first of season) Eastern Meadowlark, in the mist of the bayshore this morning.]

[Palm Warbler, above, was the clear number one in terms of numbers in this morning's flight, but. . .]

[The beloved Yellow-rumped Warbler, above, came in second numbers-wise today. This one shows the yellow crown that gives the bird its scientific species name, coronata.]

Years and years ago, I was birding Cape May with Paul Lehman, and we saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Paul remarked with a bit of sadness in his voice, "The beginning of the end." When the time of Yellow-rumpeds is here, the time of the big, diverse warbler flights is done for the year. But - big flights of short-distance migrants are ahead.

Oh, the smoke signal thing. My phone quit me this morning, which in some ways is quite a relief, but meant that until I got it fixed, I was removed from the bird communication network of Cape May, one of the hallmarks of this great place to watch birds. Had to find 'em on my own for a while, though I did email friends asking for smoke signals if a hot bird appeared.