Morning Flight - Saturday, September 15, 2018

After what has felt like a brief hiatus, the zen of zugunruhe is BACK in Cape May! From warblers to swallows to raptors, the Bird Force was finally flowing through once more. The winds were still out of the northeast this morning, but the skies were only partly cloudy and cast in that wonderful orange glow instead of fog.

We were treated to a moderately abundant and diverse flight at Higbee this morning, comprising over 400 northbound individuals and 16 warbler species (14 in active migration with “local” Wilson’s Warbler and Common Yellowthroat).

As the sun’s orange light first crept over the dike, it quickly became clear that the main flight line of birds was distant to the east side of the dike, which tends to happen with an easterly component to the winds. I was largely counting silhouetted warblers in bursts of 5s and 10s for the very beginning of the count in that peculiar mix of frustration and excitement specific to migration counters. Fortunately the flight line settled right on top of us once the sun got up more, and observers on the dike were treated to great views and good study.

The flight was headlined by (you guessed it) American Redstarts with 251 northbound individuals. We had a notable uptick in Northern Parulas (36 N) and Blackpoll Warblers (10 N), which was to be expected with the easterly component to the winds. Northern Waterthrush, Yellow, Black-and-white, and Prairie Warblers remain in attendance; Black-throated Green, Tennessee, Magnolia, Blackburnian, and Pine were nice additions to the diversity component.

We also had 13 northbound Red-eyed Vireos this morning. Although regarded by many as the scourge of July, I think seeing REVIs in morning flight is the best way to appreciate them-- their bight pearly-white underparts really shine! Two Red-breasted Nuthatch, a couple of Dickcissels, and two “Trail’s” type flycatchers were good bonuses as well.
You won't hear a flight call from this species!
Who knows why they don't seem to have one.
Swallows were the other big movers of the day; about 700 Tree Swallows swirled past the count headed mostly north. A healthy amount of Barn Swallows joined their minor murmurations but largely flew south. A handful of sky-high Purple Martins drifted south over the bay. Picking out bins-only birds in morning flight is always a scary feeling since the in-your-face nature of the count rarely leaves time for scanning, but it’s a wonderful feeling to have a sky full of birds in this day and age, and it’s a good reminder that our powers of observation are frequently more limited than we assume.

So buff!
The raptors of the morning were a pleasant reminder that hawkwatching season is ramping up, and the combined songbirds and raptors spectacle from mid-September to mid-October is truly Cape May at its best. Osprey circled out over the water in numbers all morning. A couple of Cooper’s Hawks darted through the dune treeline, plowing frightened warblers in front of them. Several Merlin bombed their way down the Delaware Bayshore, slicing through the swirling swallows. A Northern Harrier and an immature Bald Eagle soared out over the bay before drifting south. It’s a good day and a welcome sign of things to come.

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

Bring on Day 47!

A stealthily nondescript Pine Warbler. Photo copyright Sam Galick.
Merlin with a full crop.
It's hard to be a songbird in Cape May!

"Warblers? I wanna see?" -- this dolphin (probably).

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