Morning Flight - Sunday, September 23, 2018

Lots of birds were up on the radar last night, riding northeast winds down the coast from New England towards us here in Cape May. With incoming birds gauranteed, the quality of the flight this morning was going to be determined by the weather conditions. Namely, how much precipitation was there going to be in the morning, and were birds still going to fly through it?

After spending a few minutes on the dike, the answers became clear: yes, it was going to be raining all morning, and yes, the birds were going to keep flying right through it!

Although not overwhelming from a pure numbers basis, this was definitely the most challenging flight of the season from an ID standpoint. Even birds immediately to our west were shrouded in silhouette (I don’t think it was physically possible to ID a Bay-breasted Warbler above the treeline) this morning, but it was too rainy to bring my camera out. That said, so many birds were moving in pulses that I would have missed too many had I tried to chimp things, which is why you should never rely *too* much on a camera! I really do apologize that I'm writing about such a great flight without any visuals, but even with photos Morning Flight will always be something that has to be seen in person to get a sense of the full spectacle (so come visit!).

Now onto the birds: Northern Parulas officially took the baton from American Redstarts today, and man did they run (I mean fly) with it! We had 227 parulas followed by 105 redstarts and 77 Palm Warblers (northbound totals). Those nice numbers were complemented by a healthy swath of warbler diversity, with 17 actively migrating species (that includes Common Yellowthroats, which were busily darting north through breaks in vegetation).

Another warbler highlight of the morning were Blackpoll Warblers, which are a classic NE wind species since they are pushed onshore from their typically pelagic migration. The real total of Blackpolls was likely much higher than 28 though (perhaps upwards of 50-75), as lots of poorly lit and silent birds had to be relegated to “biggish warbler sp.” The birds were still flying through the rain, but some were clearly not pleased to have their feathers dampened-- I watched one Blackpoll shake itself off while flying! Write that one down in the “only in Cape May” book.

I can’t take credit for counting these numbers by myself, though! Interpretive naturalist Adehl Schwaderer did a great job of spotting warblers passing through “the gap” in front of the platform *while* entertaining a big crowd. And like an angel in the outfield, Marshall Iliff materialized to pull new warbler species out of the sky.

Merlin were also pulling warblers out of the sky as they zoomed and bombed their way around Higbee this morning, although with a more deadly intent. I put my bins on a Merlin and saw an upside down pair of little songbird feet protruding from its talons, and I also watched another Merlin land in the treeline to consume its hard-won prey. Who knows how many scores of songbirds were eaten this morning? The spectacular convergence of songbird and raptor migration in Cape May makes for a beautiful river of life and a deadly gauntlet of depredation all at once.

The “bonus diversity” contingent put on a strong show this morning too, with a Lark Sparrow, Philadelphia Vireo, and a Yellow-throated Vireo. Yellow-throated Vireos are not annual past Morning Flight, and this bird was adroitly spotted by David Wilcove as it flew in to the little walnut on the dike and then shot down the road.

Lastly, a few Savannah Sparrows dropping down along the impoundments were a reminder that October’s sparrow-y goodness will soon be here. Thanks to everyone who came out to the count this morning to enjoy the spectacle! It’s always a pleasure, no matter the conditions!

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

Bring on Day 55!

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