Tuesday, September 15, 2015

This Thing Happened

[The scene at morning flight, Higbee Beach WMA, Cape May, NJ today. Listen to all the flight notes, and cameras clicking.]

As expected, migration was epic in Cape May, NJ this morning. Below I've posted my list from the Higbee Beach WMA dike today. The flight was spiced by a couple rarities and 27-ish warbler species.

This thing happened at the dike this morning, and I'm not sure what to do with it. What would you do?

Late in the flight, a bird came over medium-high, headed south. When I first saw it, I got that thing you get when you see a different, rare bird. You know that thing? Kind of like you stuck your finger in an electrical outlet?

It was the kind of bird that you say to yourself (if you are wise), "I'm not calling this one until I am sure." About the time I was saying this to myself, Glen Davis, the official morning flight counter at Higbee, said, "No way! I'm not even going there." I knew right away he was on the same bird. I suspect he was thinking, I know it's good today, but this good? That's what I was thinking, anyway.

I had about four seconds of reasonably good binocular views of this bird, then watched it until it disappeared over the trees to the south-southeast. Then I stood silently for maybe five minutes, processing, ignoring the ongoing flight. Carefully considering what I had just seen, the field marks I felt I could reliably say I saw well, evaluating what, if anything, was missing to confirm this identification (other than a photo, or independent corroboration.)

Then I dialed up the bird I thought I had seen on the Sibley app on my iPhone, the view of the first winter in flight. I walked over to Glen, held up the phone, and said, "That bird we just had going south?"

Glen said, "That is EXACTLY what I was thinking." Then later, "Thank-you."

I believe Glen, Mike Lanzone, and I were the only 3 who got on this bird. Mike took some shots which, as is the norm for this kind of photography, turned out not to be identifiable. Mike said he thought he heard the bird, and wasn't sure if the flight note matched the species Glen and I suspected it was. I did not hear the bird call, and frankly am unfamiliar with its flight note because I've only encountered it a few times before, and never like this.

What would you do?

Then, to make matters, um, worse, or at least different, later I was chatting with Richard Crossley on the hawk watch platform about where he had been this morning, since he was conspicuously absent from the dike. Without any provocation, he said, "Oh, I was out looking for a [insert Don and Glen's bird here] along Sunset. It's the perfect time of year and perfect conditions for one."

I stared at Richard a moment and said, "Are you telepathic?"

Here's the promised list from this morning at the Higbee Dike.  You might also want to check the official count list.

Cape Island--Higbee Beach WMA--Dike, Cape May, New Jersey, US
Sep 15, 2015 7:00 AM - 9:00 AM
Protocol: Stationary
Comments: Remarkable diverse flight today, following an immense flight yesterday morning of ca. 56,000 birds, mainly warbler sp.'s. Classic: Cold front passed 2 days ago, winds remained more or less NW, skies clear last night and this morning. And it is September 15. September 12&13 had lowish volume but diverse migrations; September 14 had the one hour freak of nature flight; this was the classic, one, big, diverse flight that happens most years in mid-September.

94 species (+4 other taxa)

Canada Goose 10
Common Loon 1
Double-crested Cormorant 4
Great Blue Heron 1
Snowy Egret 4
Black Vulture 2
Turkey Vulture 4
Osprey 10
Sharp-shinned Hawk 8
Cooper's Hawk 1
Bald Eagle 2
Killdeer 2
Lesser Yellowlegs 3
Sanderling 15
Semipalmated Sandpiper 6
Laughing Gull X
Herring Gull X
Great Black-backed Gull X
Forster's Tern 50
Royal Tern 20
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 6
White-winged Dove 1 m'ob, photographed, called out first by Scott Whittle.
Mourning Dove X
Yellow-billed Cuckoo 1
Chimney Swift 6
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 7
Belted Kingfisher 1
Red-headed Woodpecker 2
Red-bellied Woodpecker 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Northern Flicker 10
American Kestrel 1
Merlin 3
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 1
Alder/Willow Flycatcher (Traill's Flycatcher) 1
Least Flycatcher 1
Empidonax sp. 5
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
Eastern Kingbird 10
White-eyed Vireo 1
Blue-headed Vireo 1
Red-eyed Vireo X
Fish Crow X
Northern Rough-winged Swallow X
Tree Swallow X
Barn Swallow X
Carolina Chickadee X
House Wren 1
Carolina Wren X
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher X
Veery 5 1 actually flew out, through the group
Swainson's Thrush 1
American Robin 1
Gray Catbird 4
Northern Mockingbird 1
European Starling 1
Cedar Waxwing X
Ovenbird 3
Northern Waterthrush X
Louisiana Waterthrush 1 think TR et al got photos.
Golden-winged Warbler 1
Black-and-white Warbler X MANY
Tennessee Warbler X
Nashville Warbler X
Connecticut Warbler 2
Common Yellowthroat X
Hooded Warbler 1
American Redstart X MANY
Cape May Warbler X
Northern Parula X MANY
Magnolia Warbler X
Bay-breasted Warbler X
Blackburnian Warbler X
Yellow Warbler X
Chestnut-sided Warbler X
Blackpoll Warbler X
Bay-breasted/Blackpoll Warbler X
Black-throated Blue Warbler X
Palm Warbler X
Pine Warbler 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
Prairie Warbler 2
Black-throated Green Warbler X
Canada Warbler 1
Wilson's Warbler 1
warbler sp. (Parulidae sp.) 4500 It was a great flight.
Scarlet Tanager X many
Northern Cardinal X
Rose-breasted Grosbeak X
Blue Grosbeak X
Indigo Bunting X
Painted Bunting 1 female type. Sam Galick called it by asking, is this one green? flying north with ~3 INBU.
Dickcissel 1
Bobolink X
Red-winged Blackbird X
Common Grackle X
Baltimore Oriole X many
House Finch X
American Goldfinch X
View this checklist online at http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S25045323


  1. Replies
    1. Exactly. I'm going to reflect and discuss with Glen Davis, but will eventually reveal what I think we saw.

  2. So are you gonna let know what the mystery bird was?

    1. Exactly. I'm going to reflect and discuss with Glen Davis, but will eventually reveal what I think we saw.

  3. So are gonna let us know what the mystery bird was?

    1. Exactly. I'm going to reflect and discuss with Glen Davis, but will eventually reveal what I think we saw.

  4. It's mainly unintentional, though you are right, it is fun! We need to sort out what we saw.

  5. Replies
    1. I am so glad you made it. It was the most diverse morning flight I've ever experienced; I've certainly never seen 27+ warblers in 2 hours without moving my feet. . .