Hawkwatch - Saturday-Tuesday, October 13-16, 2018

The raptor flights have been quite busy between Saturday and today. Over five thousand raptors have flown over the Cape May Hawk Watch in this short time frame!

Impressive movements of Sharp-shinned Hawks are making themselves known. Sky-high kettles of this accipiter species have been observed with with many Cooper's Hawks intermingled throughout. The numbers of Sharp-shinned Hawks seems quite low this fall, but with the help of quickly approaching cold fronts from the northwest, we may be in luck for a healthy season. A total of 696 Sharp-shinned Hawks were tallied today alone. They often make significant movements in the Cape May area during cool northwest winds, which were present today.

Songbirds continue to rush into and through the area as well. We've had some exciting migrations of Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers recently. On Saturday not one, not two, but nine Yellow-billed Cuckoos flew past the platform! A beautiful Dickcissel as well as several White-crowned Sparrows have been seen feeding below the hawk watch platform for several days.

Today was a special day, in that we surpassed the entire total raptor count from last fall! As of this afternoon, 31,209 have been counted migrating past the Cape May Hawk Watch since the beginning of last month. And the count continues...

Immature Bald Eagle

Kettle of beautiful Broad-winged Hawks

Juvenile Broad-winged Hawk

Juvenile Northern Harrier flying among Laughing Gulls and a Monarch

One of the nine (unexpected) Yellow-billed Cuckoos that flew by on Saturday!

Saturday's totals.
Sunday's Totals.

Monday's Totals.

Today's Totals.

The forecast is calling for cool temps and northwest winds, especially between Wednesday evening and throughout much of Thursday. Tomorrow (Wednesday) should produce a fun day of raptor migration. Bring your binoculars and get ready to scan the skies!

Cheers and good hawkwatching,
Erik Bruhnke

Another cold front has rolled through Cape May, bringing in good conditions for Morning Flight! I was worried that the front came in too late last night (there wasn’t much on the radar), but we ended up having our peak Blackpoll Warbler day of the fall! Blackpolls absolutely dominated the flight today, with 708 northbound individuals counted. This puts us at 2,519 for the season so far, which is the second best Blackpoll total for the official Morning Flight count. Surprisingly, other warblers, even Yellow-rumped Warblers, were few and far between, but that was mine by me since it made for easy counting! However, a couple of Bay-breasted Warblers were mixed in with the Blackpolls, which was great to see! Bay-breasted vs. Blackpoll is probably the outright trickiest fall warbler challenge, and it’s frustratingly tough to confirm Bay-breasteds in flight.

Classic October goodness. 
American Goldfinches were the other big mover of the morning, as 511 of them bounced their way north, usually in flocks of 20-50. We hadn’t seen many past the dike until now-- today represents 79% of our season total for them! And let me tell you, they can be a challenge to count as the bounce around and trade places.

Blue Jays were the boreal mover of the day this morning; 190 gradually made their way north, mostly along the far eastern treeline. In accompaniment were 13 Purple Finches and 15 Red-breasted Nuthatches, which also undulated their way through the migratory toll booth. Today’s nuthatch total puts us at exactly 1,000 northbound Red-breasted Nuthatches for the season so far, which is the third best nuthatch total for the official Morning Flight count!

Dedicated readers of the blog will recall a lot of “slow day” posts from the early season, especially in the first ⅔ of September. Things have certainly turned around here lately, with a paradigm shift in the weather occurring in the wake of Florence/Michael. We’re soaking up every second of these great conditions, which look great for landbird migration through Friday morning with these sustained NW winds and cool fall weather!
Lots of Sharpies tried to take advantage of the Blackpolls, but none had any (obvious) success.
It's full-bore fall here, so enjoy it while you can!  
As always, you can find our official count totals on Trektellen here, and our complete eBird checklist of the day’s observations here.

Bring on the next day!

Seawatch - Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday's light north winds produce a very nice flight of comorants, followed by a switch to light south winds that produced a nice little evening flight of scoters.  Over 7400 Double-crested Cormorants and 1 Great Cormorant flew by, often in large flocks of 100-300.  The first hour after sunrise alone was quite busy, with nearly 1500 cormorants!  Two Humpback Whales were spotted in the early afternoon, giving good but somewhat distant looks as they moved north in front of Ocean City and Atlantic City. 

There was also a considerable movement of Monarch butterflies, with over 200 tallied when I wasn't busy counting birds, meaning that there were probably far more moving past.  The afternoon movement of scoters was definitely a highlight, and we ended the day with 1000 Black and 1150 Surf Scoters, plus nearly another 1000 Surf/Black Scoter that were too distant for confident identification. 

Check out Trektellen totals here: http://trektellen.org/count/view/1747/20181014?sc=0

Morning Flight - 14 October, 2018

There was a fun morning flight today on the heels of yesterday’s big flight! Although it quickly became evident that the bulk of the birds brought in on Friday’s front had bailed yesterday (there were “only” 33 northbound flickers today), there were still quite a few species moving in healthy abundance. Golden-crowned Kinglets were once again moving in good numbers, with 50 northbound past us (thanks again, Adehl!). Yellow-rumped Warblers (698) and Blackpoll (138) were once again the most abundant warblers.

Like yesterday, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers also continued to engage in morning flight; we had 12 of these sulphur-washed stunners head north. The boreal cadre also moved in moderate numbers today, as Red-breasted Nuthatch (42 north), Purple Finch (20 north), and Blue Jay (98 south) flew by the dike.  

Lastly, and once again unexpectedly, the fascinating Yellow-billed Cuckoo phenomenon continued today (and I couldn’t fathom that it would’ve). The new record day count established yesterday was smashed once more, with *nine* Yellow-billed Cuckoos going north past the dike; observers further up along the Delaware Bayshore noted a healthy 15, but they weren’t nearly as concentrated as yesterday.

Tom Reed and others have actually hypothesized that these birds were brought in not by the backdoor cold front, but by Hurricane Michael itself, which essentially suckerpunched the southeast with a fast moving left hook that brought the remnants of its eye close to Cape May. That would certainly go a long way towards explaining the stupendous abundance of cuckoos; further analysis will be required to bear that answer out.

As always, you can find our official count totals on Trektellen here, and our complete eBird checklist of the day’s observations here.

Bring on the next day!

Morning Flight - Saturday, October 13, 2018

Wow, what a fabulous day! This has been a literally record-smashing few days as this strong cold front has ripped through in the wake of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Michael.

So first, a little prelude: there were practically no birds at the official Morning Flight count yesterday-- the winds switched to the NW too late last night, and then they were so strong throughout the morning that what had come in was hunkered down tight. Tom Reed was filling in for me that morning, and he registered a 49 mph wind gust during the count! While it was not a day for songbirds, it was an *epic* day for raptors, as Erik Bruhnke shattered the record for the single-day high count of American Kestrel with 5,406 birds! The previous record was 5,038 from September 30, 1999, and a flight of this magnitude was something many of us around here thought was no longer possible given their declines. You can read about that phenomenal day here. As the raptor flight went on yesterday, diurnal migrants like Purple Finches and Northern Flickers bounding over the State Park foreshadowed today’s morning’s flight; however, no one could have predicted exactly what would happen today.

The thin, high-pitched “tsee-tsee-tsee” of Golden-crowned Kinglets moving through the phrags kicked off migratory activity at the Higbee dike on a blustery, chilly, and cloudy mid-October morning. Not too long after, warblers began picking up in sizeable flocks all along the treeline as far as the eye could see. Spread out in a broad front, literal scores of warblers poured out of the treeline, and simply capturing the magnitude (although this was one of those days that whatever I put in was bound to be a conservative estimate no matter what). Yellow-rumped Warblers carried the morning with a conservative 2,621, as they undoubtedly comprised much of the 1,457 warbler spuh clicked today. Blackpoll Warblers also made a solid showing, especially in the first hour of the morning. We ended the morning with 250 Blackpolls, which puts us at a very respectable 1,633 northbound individuals for the fall with some room to go for more. Late-season warblers like Northern Parula and Cape May Warbler were in decent attendance as well, except for Palm Warblers, of which there were surprisingly few (only 27, but there were certainly some out in ether that escaped identification).

And of course, what would a Morning Flight in October be like without flickers? We had 550 Northern Flickers head up the Bayshore past the dike. Once again, Brett Ewald was there to be the designated "flicker clicker." Thank you so much for your help counting them! 282 northbound Cedar Waxwings was another solid total mixed in to the spectacle today.
Some challenging viewing conditions today, but these are still identifiable as Purple Finches!
We also had our peak Purple Finch day at Morning Flight so far as well! 106 of these thick-bodied, “drip-drip” calling finches undulated their way north past the count in loose flocks, with some bold raspberry males mixed in. Although lighting conditions made it hard to tell, the majority of these birds seemed to be crisp adult birds in comparison to the scruffy juvenile birds that were the first few to move by Higbee earlier in the fall. 14 Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and 17 Eastern Phoebe (both northbound) were also our peak counts for the fall so far. 34 northbound Red-breasted Nuthatches was a decent total given the highwinds; hopefully we’ll see many more of them and Blue Jays on tomorrow’s lighter-but-still-NW winds.

Trees beware, sapsuckers are inbound!
The undoubted highlight of the count today was breaking the single-day high count for Golden-crowned Kinglet with 245 northbound birds (conservatively)! Bonkers! The vast majority of the Golden-crowned Kinglets were shooting through the gap, and interpretive naturalist Adehl Schwaderer did a great job clicking the majority of this flight line as I was busy clicking gobs of Yellow-rumped Warblers and other warblers! Big kudos to her for her service.

We also broke the single day high count for Yellow-billed Cuckoo with 5 northbound birds that zoomed their way along the leeward side of the dike! A bonus southbound Black-billed Cuckoo was a most welcome addition as well (the lack of rufous in the primaries and the plain tan as opposed to warm brown upperparts are good field marks in flight). As great as this was, it was but a small portion of the cuckoo flight today, which didn’t really begin until later on in the morning. There were several reports of dozens flying up the Bayshore. Once the flight had definitively died, I drove up to see the spectacle and make a brief, unofficial count. From 11:50 to 12:50, I had 60!!! in one hour, and 30!!! in the first ten minutes! While other observers surely recorded a higher count of them, I was just happy to catch part of the show. It was utterly astounding to see these ethereal beauties of interior forest winging their way over coastal dune scrub at point-blank range. Scattered individuals continued to fly all across Cape May late into the afternoon (including at the Avalon Seawatch), and practically every birder out in the field today saw at least one.
Wow. Just wow.
This literally unprecedented spectacle made my Georgia heart swell with awe (the previous single-day/location high for CM was somewhere around 10-15), and it stands as a wonderful reminder that there are still ornithological mysteries to document and unravel, even here in Cape May with its long tradition of field study. Tomorrow should be another productive day as well, since these NW winds will continue into the morning as they peter out and switch around; they’ll be lighter tomorrow, so perhaps we’ll see another big day for species that move on light winds like flickers and nuthatches! So be sure to get out and bird, no matter where you are!

As always, you can find our official count totals on Trektellen here, and our complete eBird checklist of the day’s observations here.

Bring on the next day!

Seawatch - Saturday, October 13, 2018

Today was quite cool, with 10-15 mph northwest winds that produced some interesting passerines and got the cormorants moving!  Over 1800 Double-crested Cormorants, 1100 Black Scoters, and 260 Surf Scoters came by in decent sized flocks slowly throughout the day.  Over 100 Brant and Great Blue Herons were counted as well, the first good push of these species.  37 Wood Duck were seen as well, which are always a pleasure to see migrating over the ocean.

On the songbird front, 4 Yellow-billed Cuckoos flew in off the ocean, including one that flew into the shack then flew back out!

Yellow-billed Cuckoo exiting the shack and continuing west/south down the jetty!

Several Red-breasted Nuthatches came in as well, including one that flew in the shack and back out, as well as a very tired one that ended up perched on a stalk of grass!

Blackpoll, Yellow-rumped, Praire, and Magnolia Warblers were all seen coming in off the ocean, as well as a Common Yellowthroat that was seen sitting on the jetty.  Also notable were two Blue-headed Vireos, one of which had white primaries!

A very cool-looking Blue-headed Vireo with white primaries!

My first Dark-eyed Junco and Golden-crowned Kinglets of the season were also seen and heard today.

Check out the Trektellen totals and my eBird checklist for more photos.

The next southeast winds we get should be quite productive for scoters!  FALL IS HERE!  COME BIRDING!

Good birding,