Monday, August 22, 2016

Doh

Flight? Not. As in not this morning, Monday August 22, 2016. Front passed too late, stormy to our north, blah blah blah - and no warblers. So tomorrow? Other than that the winds are going to swing to the NE, which is less good, yes.

Yet another predictor of big flights is simply, whatcha got in the pipe? Meaning, if you've had two weeks of lousy migration weather (and we in Cape May have), then the pipe is full of birds ready to come. Hopefully.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Flight? Flight.

[Graphical weather forecast from Sunday, August 21 2016 at about 9:15 a.m., courtesy of NOAA. Click to enlarge.]

An additional very useful tool in the hocus pocus of predicting bird migration is the National Weather Service's graphical forecast, like the one above. I mainly look at the second row, which shows forecast wind direction and velocity. In fall, what I want to know three things:

1. When is the wind going to come around to northwest (as it invariably does at least for a little while when a cold front crosses the cape)? Above we can see that sometime in the middle of the night Sunday that will happen. This is good, but it would be better earlier. However, we also need to consider conditions well to the north, up to several hundred miles, because that is our "sending zone:" the place our Monday birds will be coming from. It looks like the front will only clear the western part of New York and New England in time for birds from those areas to migrate Sunday night, which is a bit of a bummer.

2. When the wind does shift, what will it's speed be? I like to see speeds in the teens - strong enough to drift birds to the coast (and therefore also cause them to engage in re-directed morning flight). Wind in the 20's or higher can be too strong for some migrant landbirds.

3. How much of a west component will the wind have and how long will it last? It looks like beginning around midnight Sunday night, there will be plenty of west component until the middle of Monday night, when the little flags on the graph start leaning to the right - i.e. east. This is also a bummer, because it means Tuesday will be less good than it would have been if the winds had stayed west.

The forecast above is actually about perfect for a hawk flight, except for one thing: the date. There will be hawks in Cape May on Monday - Ospreys, harriers, an eagle or three - but not the piles of hawks there would be if this was a forecast for mid-September or later.

The upshot for Monday: definitely a flight of landbirds, but perhaps not as many as if the front were to fully clear the northeast early in the night. Then hawks. A good day.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Thoughtful Thursday: Children

[I watched and admired as this Common Tern parent, right,  flew past its offspring as the mewing baby begged on the beach. No fish until you fly, kid. 10 passes later the kid made a short, weak, but brave flight, and was rewarded on landing with an Atlantic Silverside, a very common baitfish in our waters right now, called spearing by fishermen. Stone Harbor Point this morning, click to enlarge.]

“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” 
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Monday, August 8, 2016

Hocus Pocus

Sometimes the Hocus Pocus migration prediction magic actually works.


[Northern Waterthrush in morning flight at Higbee Beach WMA, NJ Sunday morning.

Only, it's not magic at all, in fact it is relatively simple stuff to know when a good day is coming (predicting truly massive flights is less easy, but still sometimes possible.) You look at the date - early August, OK, what species are likely migrants now? (see blog below.) You look at the weather map and charts - when is a cold front going to pass through Cape May? Will the winds turn to northwest before nightfall or at least sometime in the night? Plan to go birding the morning after. And, if you want, check the weather radar before you go out to gauge the extent of migration.

[Velocity weather radar at 2:40 a.m. Sunday morning, August 8, 2016, from Dover, DE. Blue colors are birds flying towards the station, hot colors are birds flying away. Notice they avoid flying over the water; this radar image with a "bite" out of it on the east side is a great predictor for birds on the coast in fall. The blob at the bottom right is a rain squall associated with the cold front that passed.]

[A bit of a surprise, this male Tennessee Warbler on Sunday morning was among the earliest southbound Tennessee's ever recorded at Cape May, right in front of the concrete platform in the first field.]

As of now, the next little hit of migrants seems likely Tuesday-ish next week, but that's 8 days away, so don't hold me to it. Dribs and drabs until then. Yesterday morning I ran into about 40 individual warblers of 8 species, and heard of at least two other warbler species seen by others. Not to mention a couple dozen Eastern Kingbirds, Orchard Orioles, waxwings, etc. And the fall mosquito crop seemed not to be abroad yet, though there are still deerflies around. . .

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Dowasaurus, Other Shorebirds, Thoughts About Sunday


[This Long-billed Dowitcher, right, with a Short-billed Dowitcher at left, has been hanging around the South Cape May Meadows for a few days. Click to enlarge photos.]

I wrote about dowitcher i.d. last week, but the above bird (a different individual from last week's bird) has a couple striking features. First, it's big, bulky, large-headed, thick-necked - these are not insults, but if you flick your eyes back and forth between the two birds you'll see the usefulness of these field marks. This Long-billed also has a very long bill, with an unusual curve at the tip that is accentuated by the fact it is holding some tasty morsel.

[Six species in one photo - can you name them? Answer in a future blog.]

Both the meadows and Cape May Point State Park are in great shape for shorebirds, and should stay that way barring torrential rain, which can drown the moist soil habitat. Even better, look what's coming tonight:

[The sort of weather map you want to see, even if it is only August 6. A cold front (the blue line with triangles facing southeast) is forecast to clear Cape May tonight. Migrant songbirds should be behind it.]

What can we expect, songbird migrant wise, on August 7 in Cape May? Plenty of Yellow Warblers, for sure. Right on time for Lousiana Waterthrush. Fine for a Prothonotary Warbler or two, or Worm-eating Warblers, Ovenbirds, Black-and-white Warblers, and of course American Redstarts. Maybe the very scarce Cerulean Warbler? Some Orchard Orioles should be moving. We'll see.

[More and more juvenile Laughing Gulls are appearing away from the colonies, e.g. this one in the parking lot at Cape May Point State Park. They're out in the rips, too - time to remind ourselves that not all dark-colored birds chasing terns are jaegers. . . laughers do it too.]