Morning Flight - Sunday, August 19, 2018

The lingering signs of last night’s wind and rain were obvious on the dike this morning, as cloudy skies shrouded us to all sides. Decent numbers of birds were up on the radar last night, but this is no guarantee for a good morning flight. Still, four previous morning flight counters plus some more birders joined me on the dike this morning to see what was in store.

All of that counting talent was overkill for today’s flight, since no species was particularly abundant. Precipitation to our north presumably grounded migrants before many could be pushed to Cape May to engage in morning flight. Overcast conditions can make for difficult, backlit viewing though, so the additional eyes and great company were very much welcome.
The light left something to be desired today.
I don't think I'll ever tire of ad. male redstarts though!
As per usual on these slow days, we maintained our handfuls of redstarts, Yellow Warblers, and Northern Waterthrushes, which were highlighted by lone Prairie, Chestnut-sided Warblers, and Prothonotary Warblers. 61 kingbirds remain a sign of the abundance on the horizon, while 5 Orchard Orioles (as with the Prothonotary) are a reminder to appreciate what we have before they depart entirely. Our two oddities of the morning were a much-awaited Lark Sparrow that came in chasing a blackbird before perching on the dike, and a Boat-tailed Grackle flying south with a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds! We see handfuls of Boat-tails in morning flight, but typically not until October.
Molty bunting torpedo! 
Moderate northeast winds tonight and in the morning-- if it's got north in the forecast, I'll take it!
As always, you can find the link to the official count on Trektellen here and the complete eBird checklist here.

Bring on Day 20!

Morning Flight - Saturday, August 18, 2018

Barn Swallows stole the day by a mile today, moving in massive numbers on today’s light southwest winds. Shortly after the sun broke, Barn Swallows began zooming south past the dike, first in groups of threes and fives but then by the dozen. Any given scan across the the Delaware Bay revealed similar numbers doing their best storm-petrel impressions as they flew right over the water’s surface. The near-constant clicking of sports counters added to the ambiance of the morning, and I couldn’t even attempt photos of them because to do so would mean failing to count individuals to either side of me.

This is the only Barn Swallow photographed all day! 
Hardly anything else was migrating in numbers, however, which for whatever reason tends to be the case when we have big Barn Swallow flights in Cape May. We owe them a great debt for making the day entertaining and interesting!

We ended the morning at Higbee with 720 Barn Swallows (equalling our total from all the previous days of the count!) and 63 Purple Martins as the birds ceded the day to the grating purrs of cicadas. Although the flight at Higbee was done, the Barn Swallows had other plans. They continued streaming through the dunes at the Meadows, over the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, and in the sky above well past noon. I joined Tom Reed over there to continue basking in the spectacle, and his final count was 9,234 at 2:15! That makes for over 10,000 Barn Swallows past Cape May Point today! Oh, what a lovely August day with one of the world's most classic birds.

As always, you can find the link to the official count on Trektellen here and the complete eBird checklist here. TR’s totals from the Meadows in Trektellen are here.

Bring on Day 19!

Morning Flight - Friday, August 17, 2018

Muggy, tropical air has again returned to Cape May. Dewpoints today reached well into the 70s, levels that readily translate to very stuffy outdoor conditions. Winds overnight were light from the south, and as such, we anticipated a fairly light movement past the Higbee dike this morning.

Therefore, we were pleasantly surprised to find that a fair number of passerines were engaged in morning flight behavior today.  Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Orchard Oriole both staged unexpectedly strong movements. The gnatcatcher flight was particularly impressive, as very high groups of 2-9 individuals (eventually adding up to 51) made their way south over the dike throughout the count period. There were occasional pulses of both northbound and southbound warblers, several sky-high groups of southbound Bobolinks, and a building southbound stream of Barn Swallows. Bird of the Day award easily went to the Willow Flycatcher that snaked its way north through the phragmites toward the end of the count period. Empidonax flycatchers are notoriously difficult and present unique challenges in flight; this one paused long enough to vocalize and provide some convincing views.

Count totals from today can be found at Trektellen; a full list of birds encountered can be found at eBird.

Conditions look similar for tomorrow but, as always, it's certain that something notable will happen and I'm sure you'll be able to read about here. Better yet, consider heading out to see morning flight for yourself! For now, we'll leave you with a selection of photos from this morning.

[Top to bottom: Green Heron, Bobolink, Common Sootywing butterfly, Northern Mockingbird, White-rumped Sandpiper, Prothonotary Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Cedar Waxwings. 
All photos © Tom Reed.]

Morning Flight - Thursday, August 16, 2018

The early count period is dead! Long live the early count period! Highlights (counting all directions) include 958 Purple Martins, 720 Barn Swallows, 413 Yellow Warblers, 225 American Redstarts, 112 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, 99 American Goldfinches, 58 Orchard Orioles, and 6 Yellow-billed Cuckoos. Wow! We totaled fifteen warbler species and a little over over 14,000 individual birds (and that’s not counting the July 29th flight). Considering the near total lack of cold fronts during the official count period, I will proudly take those totals.

With the winds still coming out of the west and no precipitation to block incoming migrants, active movement was notably more evident today. The birds seemed to recognize the traditional start date of the official count as well: Barn Swallows were back at it, and we had our first solid morning for Bobolinks, with approximately 500 northbound individuals calling “bink!” across the sky. Kingbirds and waxwings were in decent attendance as well with 52 and 89 southbound individuals, but big flights for both of those species are impending.

We also scored our first Chestnut-sided Warbler of the fall! Still lots of diversity to add though-- Canada Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, Cape May Warbler, and Northern Parula are all low-hanging fruit that should appear very soon, and we eagerly await their arrival.
Just keep zipping, just keep zipping. Photo © Tom Johnson.
Two true blue cold fronts are forecasted to come through Cape May on Sat-Sun and Wed-Thurs, so keep those prayers to the Birding Gods flowing!

As always, you can find the link to the official count on Trektellen here and the complete eBird checklist here. Photos from this morning can be found below.

Bring on Day 17!

Northern Rough-winged Swallows like (love?) to buzz the biofilm pool on the dike.
Photo © Andrew Dreelin.  
 I'm gonna miss you guys...*sniffle*
Photo © Andrew Dreelin. 
"Coming in for a landing...deploying stilts now."
Photo © Andrew Dreelin.