Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Elvis Has Left the Building. Where Did He Go?

 [Above, male Black-throated Blue Warbler. Below, a female. Male BTBW is kind to fall birders, appearing just like they do in spring. Females, spring and fall, look very different - but it can be said that fall warblers, or female warblers, look like spring males, only less so. . . perhaps a stretch, but note the white wing patch in the same place on both. Cape May, NJ, Sep 25, 2016, click to enlarge all photos.]

The accursed east winds STILL blow - I confess, I stole the word "accursed" from Pirates of the Carribean, but it is apt here. Nonetheless, it is late September, and birds fly south. Between September 25 and 26, I observed a couple thousand migrating warblers of about 23 species, and a similar number of woodpeckers (mainly flickers) migrating in Cape May, NJ. This ain't bragging, it's the truth, and just what you get if you find a good day and a good spot. In the first hour after sunrise. . . more on that below.

It's a good thing, from a conservation perspective, to know where large numbers of migrant birds pass through. But here's a bigger question for my friends in Cape May and elsewhere: after we see them in morning flight, where do they go? Where do they feed and rest? We have very much yet to learn about these questions. It's very cool to be on the dike at Higbee Beach WMA, or the first field there, or at Coral Avenue, or along Delaware Bay, but what are the lands and habitats they need to rest up? I've begun a very rudimentary pilot investigation of this question, which ain't easy, in part because it pulls the keen birder in us away from places we know migrants are concentrating for the best watching and highest species totals.

 [A Black-throated Green Warbler pauses for just a few seconds in the dune forest along Delaware Bay early in the morning, before continuing north. . .and maybe west? to find good stopover habitat.]

 [Rose-breasted Grosbeaks don't breed in Cape May, so it is always a treat to catch a migrant.]

[Magnolia Warbler, what a field mark of a tail patttern!]

Yesterday morning I found myself at Higbee Beach WMA, NJ with Boone, intent on working him in the pond south of the fourth field (NJDFW wisely allows dog training at WMA's after September 1, wisely in part because hunters foot the bill for many WMA acquisitions). A few birders remained, and all enjoyed chatting with me and the dog.

It was 2 hours after sunrise, and the warblers were pretty much gone. Elvis had left the building. Where did he go?

[It's hard to capture a morning flight event in Cape May, NJ or anywhere else in words, pictures, or videos, here's iPhone 5 video from Sunday, best viewed full size with audio on.]

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