Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Watching a Rare Bird Disappear

[Calliope Hummingbird at the Triangle Garden, Cape May Point, NJ today. Note the short fine bill, how the wingtips project just beyond the tail tip and the uniform buff appearance below. A Ruby-throated's tail projects past the wingtips, and it lacks the extensive buff below.]

It was one of the coolest flights made by a bird I've ever seen, but it was definitely an "uh-oh" moment. The Calliope Hummingbird found at the Triangle Garden on Lighthouse Avenue in Cape May Point, NJ yesterday by Michael O'Brien had made three visits to the garden's flowers as dawn unfolded, returning to trees nearby to perch and rest. Then, abruptly, at 8:20 a.m. it shot upward, towering for a count of maybe 10 seconds, ascending that whole time. Richard Crossley and I said "uh-oh" at about the same time as it ascended. Then it shot eastward, eastward until it faded to nothing in my binoculars. It was a good day for this bird to leave, with fair skies and northeast winds, but a shame for the folks who came later than first light searching for this bird. I'll be very surprised if it turns up again,  although if it kept going east, it obviously was going to be over the Atlantic and that spells trouble for a potentially misdirected bird.

Sadly, that doesn't mean it will stop. One theory about vagrants like this Calliope is that their compass is awry, in this case, the theory would go, by 90 degrees eastward. Thus instead of southward, the bird heads east. . .and east, and east, and, carrying the fouled-up compass to its conclusion, eventually perishes over the Atlantic, searching for winter grounds it can never find in that direction.

I'm going to hope differently, that instead of flying ever eastward this Calliope turns around, and either winters on the east coast somewhere or continues southward instead.

1 comment:

  1. You were fortunate to find this hummingbird and see it leave. I, too, hope it turns south and does not perish. You were not fortunate, however, to be furloughed. Too many of the places closer to me, particularly Great Swamp, are off-limits legally, and I do not care to transgress the law. Luckily, there are plenty of state parks, tho' not as famous as Cape May. You have hummingbirds, I have sparrows. They will do for now.