Morning Flight - Thursday, August 30, 2018

Given the cyclical pattern of cold fronts being followed by warm temps in the days after their wake until the next, the last day before a front is often the hottest and slowest, and today was no exception. The usual suspects are always entertaining though, and any day where Bobolinks are moving provides a measure of excitement (and we had 604 today), since I have to frantically search the skies every time I hear ghostly “bink!” noises coming from up high-- and the result can just as easily be a single bird or a flock of over 100!

The diversity of today’s flight was very similar to yesterday’s and it was nice to get another Worm-eating/Prothonotary combo, but on the other side of the point, a Canada Warbler and a Lark Sparrow past the Meadows provided some excitement.
Quiz bird! Click the image to zoom in. 
A good morning flight on Cape May Point tomorrow will depend on whether precipitation clears out or lingers in the morning, but there will certainly be a fresh new influx of birds inbound in the wake of this impending front. Keep a close eye on the weather, and remember that Cape May is always full of surprises!

As always, you can find the link to the official count on Trektellen here and the complete eBird checklist here.

Bring on Day 30!

Morning Flight - Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Today’s weather was much the same as previous days, and we had a similar flight to yesterday’s with the notable exception of Bobolinks, which are just now starting to pass through in force. We had our highest total so far for the season with 906 today, and more are soon to come. It’s worth noting, however, Bobolink flights are often much better on Cape May Point itself (especially the HawkWatch platform, since most Bobolinks simply fly south over the Delaware Bay rather than reorienting). Light Barn Swallow movement continues on these southwesterly winds as well, with 140 southbound individuals today. In terms of diversity, our smattering of redstarts was highlighted by a Prothonotary, a Worm-eating, a Cape May, and two Dickcissels.
A joy to watch; a difficulty to count; appreciated nonetheless.
Tomorrow looks like it will present much of the same, although there are always surprises in store at Higbee. Friday could be interesting, especially if the front clears out precipitation. Keep an eye on the weather!

As always, you can find the link to the official count on Trektellen here and the complete eBird checklist here.

Bring on Day 30!

Morning Flight - Tuesday, August 28, 2018

With the winds still out of the southwest and the heat index climbing for the past few days, expectations for today’s flight were once again low. But birds and birding are always full of surprises! Although not abundant by any means, there was some nice diversity in today’s flight.

A good movement of Bobolinks (233 south) constituted most of the abundance this morning. The diversity side of things was highlighted by a cooperative Dickcissel, a few Cape May Warblers, a Yellow-rumped Warbler (small numbers pass through in an early window before the big arrival later on), and the first Black-throated Blue Warbler of the season. Flight calls of warblers and other songbirds are rightly considered the toughest earbirding challenge in North America, but if you want to learn your first warbler flight call, Black-throated Blue is a good one to start with! They give a “chip” that’s very different from the “seeps” and “zeeps” other warblers, and they tend to call several times in a row. With that in mind, I should point out that the classic Evans & O'Brien Flight Call CDRom material is freely accessible online at this link. It’s a fabulous resource!

As always, you can find the link to the official count on Trektellen here and the complete eBird checklist here. More photos can be found below and in the eBird checklist.

Bring on Day 29!

Trust me, redstarts in flight never get old. What a stunner. 
A rare low Dickcissel! 

Dueling 'starts. 

Morning Flight - Monday, August 27, 2018

Expectations for this morning were low given last night’s forecast, but there ended up being a fun flight at Higbee this morning (albeit short on warblers). 193 Barn Swallows and 462 Bobolinks (both southbound) comprised the bulk of the abundance in today’s flight, but there has also been a notable movement of hummingbirds occurring across Cape May Point from yesterday into today. Tom Reed has recorded 54 westbound hummers as of 10:00 AM this morning, and he tallied 39 yesterday.

I had a respectable 12 north and 13 southbound individuals, which is about double the numbers that I had been having for both directions (and I suspect the overlap is limited but it’s hard to know). To that end, hummingbird movement at Higbee so far this season has been less obvious than at the Meadows. I suspect this is because there’s a lot of hummingbird feeders and good habitat between the Meadows and Higbee which would prompt them to refuel, and also because hummingbirds also don’t have much of an issue crossing the Delaware Bay if the winds are light (they are trans-Gulf migrants after all), so perhaps some merely continued south. As I’ve said before, Higbee isn’t the only place to see morning flight in Cape May, and Tom Reed’s count at the Meadows continues to provide valuable comparative data for how birds are moving around Cape May Point.

With the big movers covered, it’s time for the highlight roundup: a calling Upland Sandpiper over the bay, a local Yellow-billed Cuckoo pummelling a tent caterpillar, a southbound Hairy Woodpecker, a couple of dueling Prairie Warblers, a single northbound Red-breasted Nuthatch made for some good entertainment this morning as they made their migratory journeys in their own unique ways.

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

Bring on Day 28!

I don't think I've ever seen Upland Sandpiper and Red-breasted Nuthatch on the same day before?
Cape May convergence continues. 
Keep it coming, you little nuggets!
Undulation never gets old. 

Morning Flight - Sunday, August 26, 2018

Today I had the pleasure of being joined on the dike today by the full seasonal crew of counters and interpretive naturalists for the fall, who are just getting ready to start their season. I’ve been waiting eagerly for them to arrive for a whole month now! The warm temps and southwest winds made for a slow flight, but the big perk of a day like that is it can be a great learning opportunity since you have more of a chance to focus on individuals as opposed to being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and diversity of abundance of a big flight day. A good first experience for the enthusiastic interpretive naturalists!

Starting September 1st, there will be an interpretive naturalist stationed at the observation platform each morning to greet visitors, introduce them to the awesome spectacle that is morning flight in Cape May, and assist with identifications. They’re a fabulous resource (especially for beginners), so please, take advantage of their presence!

As for the birds we watched together, we had a brief burst of 353 southbound Barn Swallows, a southbound Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and our first-of-the-season Northern Parula and Scarlet Tanager! Northern Parulas are one of my favorite warblers, and they’re among the more obvious species we see past Higbee. In addition to having a distinctive color pattern and uniquely downward “seep” call, they have a notably squat and short-tailed look relative to other warblers, which contrasts especially sharply with sleek and slender redstarts. They are one of the more abundant warblers of the count too, so I look forward to seeing more of them soon!
Barn Swallows continue to provide an entertaining spectacle. 
The rest of the week is looking toasty warm with southwest winds until Friday, when scattered thunderstorms throughout the area will at least lower temperatures and hopefully trigger some migration.
There's always things beyond birds moving past the dike too.
I bet songbirds wish they were toxic to predators. 
As always, you can find the link to the official count on Trektellen here and the complete eBird checklist here.

Bring on Day 27!

Morning Flight - Saturday, August 25, 2018

And with an overnight radar velocity signature of birds headed west, the abundance and diversity of the previous two days vanished into the night. However, the lingering signs of a recent influx of migrants were still evident this morning-- Blue-winged and Prairie Warblers hanging around the observation platform and kingbirds still present but loafing around. But light easterly winds last night and this morning produced a diffuse and scattered flight with tough viewing conditions against cloud cover for the most part.

A brief pulse of Purple Martins and Barn Swallows provided a measure of excitement today on top of our warbler smattering; I fear that we are nearing their "last hurrah" flight for the fall, but I can safely say that I have basked in the glory of each and every one!

Although not as abundant today, 'starts continue to provide great views.

Thorn-billed Meatball is the alternate common name for Red-breasted Nuthatch. 
But with each departure comes an exciting new arrival. Red-breasted Nuthatches made a big appearance yesterday, and we had a few more past the count today. Tom Reed alluded to the disconnect between early fall vs late fall RBNUs, and I wonder whether that represents the difference between Northeastern and Boreal breeding populations.

As always, you can find the link to the official count on Trektellen here and the complete eBird checklist here. More photos can be found below and in the eBird checklist.

Bring on Day 24!
This is the closest Black-and-white Warblers get to camouflage.  
Currently this juv Peregrine has the same success rate as Wile E. Coyote. 
Haha, can't catch us! 

Morning Flight - Friday, August 24, 2018

Autumn took another big step forward at the Higbee dike this morning. Winds overnight were light from the north/northwest, with clear skies allowing lows to dip into the mid-60s-- likely the coolest temps seen locally since the count commenced August 1. These conditions also allowed for a good nocturnal flight, and my pre-dawn walk around the streets of Cape May Court House was set to the soundtrack of American Redstart flight calls.

 [Early-fall flights at Higbee are frequently dominated by American Redstart
Photo © Andrew Dreelin.]

Unsurprisingly, redstarts were also the primary movers once the sun came up. The day's total of 464 represented the young season's highest to date, with most passing by during the first 90 minutes after sunrise. We hoped that diversity would be better today, given it was the second day after passage of a cold front and more birds appeared to move on lighter winds overnight. The count's first Golden-winged Warbler, Cape May Warblers (3), Nashville Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Summer Tanager of the season were all great to see. Chestnut-sided Warbler and Baltimore Oriole both appear to solidly be "in" now, with 8 and 57 on today's tally sheet, respectively. Another addition to the season list was Blue-winged Warbler--certainly an expected migrant on August 24, but the morning's total of 8 was less expected and apparently represents the highest single-day total in count history.

 [A Blue-winged Warbler darts past the dike. Photo © Andrew Dreelin.]

Red-breasted Nuthatch also contributed a main storyline today. Following scattered reports from coastal areas to the north in recent weeks, a couple were found yesterday-- but today featured an obvious arrival. Our total of 24 was supplemented by 10+ detected in the Higbee fields, and a few others noted elsewhere. It will be interesting to see how this year's movement plays out. In some years there is a distinct and brief peak during late August, with numbers fading through the rest of the fall. In other years, numbers remain elevated through the count period, particularly during October. There's only one way to know how the 2018 movement will play out; stay tuned!

Count totals can be found here; complete morning list here.

[Totals of Red-breasted Nuthatch recorded at Morning Flight over the past decade.]

[One of 24 Red-breasted Nuthatches tallied this morning. Photo © Andrew Dreelin.]

Morning Flight - Thursday, August 23, 2018

Erik Bruhnke and I were talking a few nights ago about the differences in flow and pace of birds past all three of CMBO’s Migration Monitoring efforts, and we came to the following conclusion: we agreed that if counting raptors at the HawkWatch is like a coursing river, and if counting seabirds at the Avalon Seawatch is like a series of crashing ocean waves, then counting songbirds at Morning Flight is like being in the middle of a hailstorm! This conversation was playing out in the back of my mind early this morning as we were surrounded by redstarts, kingbirds, waxwings, and other songbirds in classic early fall fashion. And what a lovely hailstorm it was!

After a slow week leading up to today, I couldn’t help but get my hopes up for a good flight this morning, but waking up to 15-20 mph northwest winds had me a little worried. Yes, sometimes the winds can be *too strong* for morning flight, either causing migrants to overshoot Cape May head further south, or for them to hunker down in cover. Thankfully my fears were largely alleviated as soon as the sun’s rays broke over the horizon and cast the vantage from the dike in a warm glow. With that, the flight began in earnest as flocks of kingbirds and waxwings kicked things off, but redstarts and waterthrushes were hot on their heels. Stretching to the far eastern treeline, backlit warblers bounded into the gusting north wind as kingbirds created a swirling, silhouetted morass in the distance.
The Cape May magic was palpable this morning.
Fortunately for my irises, the flight soon settled into the traditional flight line right on top of the area encompassing the dike, the road, and the observation platform, providing great looks, study, and photo ops. Redstarts came in bursts of threes and sixes, often right along the edge of the dike and sometimes even too close for photos. We frequently get fabulous looks like these at morning flight-- they’re just quick ones! It quickly became clear that Black-and-white Warblers were making their first strong showing of the season, and they ended up stealing second place from Yellow Warblers in the warbler tally with 18 northbound individuals. Northern Waterthrush (9), Yellows (8), Chestnut-sideds (4), a couple Prairies (2), and Black-throated Green (1) rounded out the tally. American Redstarts ran away with first place though, as they will until early October. It’s hard to beat 258 northbound redstarts with anything but more redstarts!
Hot dang! Jamaican mangrove-bound.  
Baltimore Orioles also made a wonderful showing in their first appearance for the count, with 19 northbound individuals. The flame-like early morning light only serves to highlight their gloriously saturated colors. Glen Davis and Scott Whittle picked out a Red-breasted Nuthatch that dove down into a sumac by the platform, another first of the season. Hopefully this will be a good fall for both them and Purple Finches! Our final first of the season species was Rose-breasted Grosbeak, with two northbound birds.

The flight quieted down sharply after the first hour or so (as often happens), and soon it was just me and the kingbirds, which were fortunately less directionally challenged today. We ended the morning with 1,022 N and 315 S kingbirds, with a easily a good 200 still hanging around over the Higbee fields. We also had over 650 northbound Cedar Waxwings! Certainly lots more to come from them.
Kingbirds lock delta-foils in attack position before starting the dike run.
Migration is thirsty work. 
Despite the great day, the strong winds nevertheless left their mark on the count; we only saw one Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a species that’s famous for visibly struggling against high winds in active migration. How many more gnatcatchers landed on the point but decided to stop over rather than brave the winds to re-orient? Were any of them blown out to sea? We also didn’t add any new warblers to the count today. Could this have had something to do with the winds? Tomorrow should be calmer, so we’ll just have to see.

And with that, a big thank you to everyone who came out and enjoyed the spectacle with me. The only thing that makes a good flight better is sharing it with folks around you. Special thanks are owed to David Weber, our seawatch counter, who was briefly conscripted to count waxwings while I handled everything else. Tomorrow should be a productive day as well, with straight north winds continuing all night and into the morning before switching to the northeast.

As always, you can find the link to the official count on Trektellen here and the complete eBird checklist here. More photos can be found below and in the eBird checklist.

Bring on Day 24!

There are few finer things in life for an aerial insectivore enthusiast than a swift crush. 
Sometimes I wonder whether Peregrines feel guilt about flushing shorebirds.
Then remember: no, no they don't.
I find myself loving juvenile Laughing Gulls more and more each fall. What a bird.  
Glorious chaos. Photo copyright Kyle Bardwell. 

Kingbirds and waxwings in the staging tree on the south end of the dike.
Photo copyright Kyle Bardwell.

Morning Flight - Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Migrants were few and far between at Higbee this morning, which was to be expected given that the radar was quiet last night and winds haven’t been favorable for a while now. The most abundant species moving directionally were European Starlings. Ooph. This wouldn’t have been the case though if the large kingbird flock hadn’t felt content to roam over the fields at Higbee instead of doing anything obviously directional.

Don't be fooled: this kingbird turned around too.
Check out the width of that bill though! 
At least the shorebirds continue to make for good company! Like I’ve said before, a big part of migration monitoring means taking whatever each new day gives you and finding how to appreciate it regardless. I probably sound like a broken record at this point, but I’m very much looking forward to tomorrow and Friday!

A Semipalmated squabble over prime mud. 
As always, you can find the link to the official count on Trektellen here and the complete eBird checklist here.

Bring on Day 23!

Morning Flight - Tuesday, August 21, 2018

We’ve been fortunate so far in the count that we’ve had very few days with southeast winds. These are traditionally the least favorable wind conditions for landbird migration in Cape May, since the south winds act as a headwind for migrants, and easterlies push migrants inland away from the coast (although it can be very productive for the seawatch!).

Most species were not moving past Higbee in notable numbers this morning, but we had another stellar day of aerial insectivore movement with 1,777 actively migrating Barn Swallows! For over an hour, Barn Swallows were shooting by so quickly that it was hard for me to scan anywhere but the Bayshore! As opposed to Saturday’s flight on southwest winds where Barn Swallows were moving broadly across Cape May Point and with the biggest concentration was at the Meadows, most of today’s smaller flight seemed to be along the Bayshore and over the water thanks to the easterly winds. So who knows how many Barn Swallows were migrating further out over the Delaware Bay! Other highlights from the day include 12 southbound Great Egrets, a lone Dickcissel, and the count’s best day for Bank Swallows so far with 13 headed south mixed in with the Barns.
Lots of variation in Barn Swallow bellies today, from rusty orange to pearly white!
We are still looking forward to the cold front passing through Wednesday night and bringing northerly winds into Friday morning. But rather than hear me conjecture about weather, why not check out the 3-day migration forecasts from BirdCast that will running for the rest of the fall? We’re big fans of the good work that they do, which is changing birding for the better by informing birders about how weather influences migration in real-time, all while doing some cutting edge research.

As always, you can find the link to the official count on Trektellen here and the complete eBird checklist here. More photos from the day can be found below.

Bring on Day 22!

The most nimbly-bimbly of all swallows.
Such fresh plumage you have, my dear! 

Morning Flight - Monday, August 20, 2018

The “bubble” flight call of an Upland Sandpiper kicked off an otherwise quiet sunrise at the dike today. The dike remained largely quiet until around 8:00 AM, when a significant Purple Martin, a.k.a “Mini-Merlin” movement got underway in what looked like a unified “liftoff” from somewhere to the southeast of the dike (my aerial insectivore senses lead me to guess Pond Creek Marsh as the most likely source).

This northbound flight of 1,500+ is the second largest tally of Purple Martins recorded for the official Morning Flight Songbird Count, although it’s worth noting that Purple Martins have only been counted for the past several years as the count has grown beyond its original focus on warblers and the like. Most of our aerial insectivores are long-distance Neotropical migrants too, y’know! As with many movements here, some obvious questions arise: were these martins the accumulated southbound birds that had flown by the count in prior days, or were these recent departures, perhaps a small segment the famously massive roost of ~750,000 on the Maurice River north of here? That sort of question requires individually tagged birds for a real answer, but the martins were certainly headed north in force in a broad front across the middle of Cape Island. The counter in me must confess that I’m a little glad it was “only” 1,500. I love Purple Martins to the ends of the Earth, but I think my heart would stop if I had to count that many while worrying about everything else going past the dike!

The other notable of the day was the sizeable roaming flock of kingbirds that would occasionally mix with (and chase!) the migrating martins, which provided an interesting ID challenge at a backlit distance. These big wandering flocks often move across Cape May well into the day, and they are truly a spectacular sign of late August! If only they were a little more decisive about whether to go north or south...
Right now kingbirds seem a little "directionally challenged."
You are royalty! Make up your minds!  
As always, you can find the link to the official count on Trektellen here and the complete eBird checklist here.

Bring on Day 21!

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!