Update (November 2):
Along with death and destruction, Hurricane Sandy brought birds. Seabirds from the tropics to the north Atlantic were gathered, blown inland and dumped in Sandy’s wake.
Here in Vermont, Dave Hoag’s storm-petrel (perhaps a Leach’s) on October 31 was the only notable sighting. In New Hampshire, a Leach’s Storm-Petrel spent it last days at Lake Massabesic near Manchester, where it was attacked by Herring Gulls (not a pretty sight). In New York, at the head of Long Island Sound, Paul Buckley scored with Bridled and Sooty terns and an exceedingly rare Black-capped Petrel. At least two Northern Lapwings were off-course on Nantucket Island, mostly likely a Sandy deposit. Blair Nikula had banner storm days off Cape Cod. And my pal Brian Kane discovered a Red Phalarope at Turner’s Fall, MA. Keep looking, particularly on lakes and ponds. More rarities could be stranded inland.
Original Post (October 29)
Hurricane Sandy is packing high winds, heavy rain, and wayward birds. The storm will likely gather up oceangoing birds and push them inland. It’s an opportunity to see tropicbirds, petrels, tropical terns, and other rare stuff.
Your first rule is this: Do no harm to yourself. Sandy is a deadly storm. No bird is worth your injury or death. (Well, give me time … I might think of a few.) But if conditions warrant, get outside and look for odd or exhausted birds. They may drop into fields or drift over lakes and ponds.
The hurricane of 1938 brought Cory’s Shearwater (Wheelock), Greater Shearwater (Rutland), Leach’s Storm-Petrel (Barre, Norwich, Rutland, St. Johnsbury), White-tailed Tropicbirds (North Danville, Adamant and Woodstock) and other delights to Vermont that particular September. Tropical Storm Irene dumped Vermont’s first Band-rumped Storm-Petrel into Harland last year. When your neighbors call to report “a strange bird in the yard,” take it seriously. Go investigate if it’s safe to do so. And please post any sightings here as a comment or to VTBIRD.
For those birders using Twitter, remember the hashtag of VTBIRD (#VTBIRD). It will allow us to filter through the routine garbage on Twitter for Vermont rarities. Stay safe!
Launching a new effort to protect the rare Bicknell’s Thrush, an alliance of North American scientists and conservationists is taking the unusual step of funding a team of Dominican biologists to work in the migratory songbird’s Caribbean wintering habitat.
The Bicknell’s Thrush Habitat Protection Fund at the Adirondack Community Trust has awarded a $5,000 grant to Grupo Jaragua, whose biologists will study the thrush in forested mountains on the Dominican Republic’s border with Haiti. The grant recognizes a need to protect the songbird across its entire range, particularly in its threatened winter destinations.
“The Bicknell’s Thrush has two homes – one here in North America and the other in the Caribbean Basin,” said Chris Rimmer, executive director of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, a research group working to conserve the thrush. “Our efforts to protect this vulnerable songbird can’t stop at the water’s edge. We need to concentrate our work where the threats are most severe and imminent.”
Sound the alarms. A Wood Sandpiper has been entertaining birders at Marsh Meadows in Jamestown, Rhode Island, since its discovery on October 13. Vermonter Chuck Gangas got a clear shot of this Eurasian wader, which has no business being in North America. Wood Sandpipers breed from the Scottish Highlands across Europe and into Asia. They migrate to Africa, southern Asia, and India. Well, they migrate there unless they get off course and land in New England. Chuck is a great photographer, having scored a shot of a rare “Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler (among other images) during our Vermont Bird Tours trip to Monhegan Island this fall. Check out Chuck’s other images!
Give me a few hours and I’ll give you your digital camera revealed. You’ll understand the dials, buttons and menus on your point-and-shoot or SLR camera. You and your camera will collaborate for the best shots possible. I’m offering two workshops on Friday, November 9, and Saturday, November 10.
POINT-AND-SHOOT (and SLR) PLEASURES
Friday, November 9 / 6–8:30pm / Montpelier / $10
Bring yourself and your camera to the First Baptist Church of Montpelier for a lively lecture, a bit like a revival meeting on digital enlightenment. You’ll learn your camera’s buttons, dials and menus. You can’t take great photos unless you know how to switch your camera away from AUTO mode. And we’ll even cover essential topics in photography – the stuff you never learned in the “olden days” of film. There is no need to register for this workshop; just show up with your camera ready to learn. Charge your camera battery before class. The First Baptist Church is one block down School Street from Kellogg-Hubbard Library. You’ll also get refreshments and informative handouts.
GET YOUR SHOT
Saturday, November 10 / 9am – 2pm / Montpelier / $45
Join me for an innovative session using our cameras together. You’ll learn the strategies and camera settings for sports, wildlife, grand-kids, flowers, landscape, macro photography, and your own creative aspirations We’ll share a bit of lecture time, but mostly we will be indoors and outside at “photo stations” I’ve established for effective learning. This workshop is limited to 10 people. Registration is mandatory. My Point-and-Shoot Pleasures workshop or equivalent knowledge of your camera is required for this course. To sign up, send me an email.
The October edition of my micro-newsletter FIELD NOTES hits the interwebs today. Click on the image below or click here to read the latest on Monarch butterflies, Bald Eagles, fall foliage, and other autumnal events.
By all measures, foremost among them being the flash of feathers, Saturday was typical here on Monhegan Island, which is to say it was spectacular.
Peregrine Falcons, Merlins, and American Kestrels rocketed across the island at every angle and at every minute. A swarm of Great Shearwaters, with a couple of Cory’s among them, sliced the currents off Lobster Cove. Eleven sparrow species were chapters in a textbook discussion on the identification of “little brown birds.” And 19 warbler species crossed our wandering paths, including the ubiquitous Yellow-rumped Warbler.
But one of those Yellow-rumps was not like the others. One was a Westerner. read more…
Gentle north winds delivered a classic songbird fallout to the Vermont Bird Tours outing to Monhegan Island on Monday. The highlight was this Hooded Warbler off Lobster Cove Road on the way to Alison Hill‘s studio. Additional Monhegan specialties poured from the skies, including several Dickcissels, a few Blue Grosbeaks and, of course, a the storm of warblers. We’re up to five vireo species, including White-eyed Vireo. The Merlin rocket show is picking up, along with the accipiter flights. But we still have a few warblers to discover. Onward for another morning. The next Monhegan Birding Update will come September 30, a report from my second outing to the island this fall.
The Great Flight begins. Last night’s north winds inland should bring a welcome flight of warblers and other songbirds today to Monhegan Island off Maine’s midcoast. Highlights so far from a Vermont Bird Tours outing here include a dozen Great Shearwaters on ferry crossing from Port Clyde, the usual showings of Northern Gannets and Bald Eagles off the island’s north end, and a smattering of wayward songbirds from faraway points: White-eyed Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Dickcissel, Lark Sparrow, and a Golden-winged Warbler (discovered by Paul Miliotis).
At our feet is a metropolis of butterflies. Monarch, Red Admiral, American Lady, and Painted Lady are abundant in the glitter of gossamer wings covering the island, but we’re also seeing a couple of rare southerners: Common Buckeye and Cloudless Sulphur. Stay tuned for news from today’s flight. In the meantime, here’s a Northern Gannet.
Two wings and a prayer will carry a Blackpoll Warbler on a remarkable journey to South America this autumn. Well, two wings, a prayer, and the energy packed into a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Since June, this wisp of a bird, with a high, thin pulsing song, has been raising young in boreal woods from Alaska, across Canada, and into high forests of the Northeast. With their offspring on the wing and independent, many songbirds now begin migration to the tropics. But the Blackpoll’s route is where few would dare flutter: a long-distance flight over the Atlantic Ocean.
Songbirds generally avoid ocean crossings. During migration, many species choose to stop and go, to touch down among trees where they can rest and refuel. But the Blackpoll is a mariner this season. From its boreal breeding grounds, it moves southeast toward the coasts of maritime Canada, New England, and shoreline points south. Then something dramatic happens.
When crisp autumn winds blow from behind, the Blackpoll – in what is less a leap of faith than a fine example of evolution – launches out to sea for three days and more than 2,000 miles of non-stop flapping toward the northern shores of South America.
News Alert (September 23): Your blogger-in-chief, Bryan Pfeiffer, is on Monhegan Island, Maine. Reports on the fall migration begin Monday morning.
At least that’s the prevailing hypothesis. Although we can’t track these warblers as they fly, we have ample evidence to support this iconoclastic route: lots of Blackpolls at coastal sites in the fall, Blackpolls spotted from ships at sea, and relatively few Blackpolls in southeastern states and Central America (where we would expect to find them on a more terrestrial southbound route).
The sea and its trade winds welcome the Arctic Tern and American Golden Plover, celebrated transoceanic migrants. But a warbler? How can a woodland bird make a similar journey?
It does so with the same currency as the tern and the plover: fat. The Blackpoll gains weight – a lot of weight. After breeding in July, the average Blackpoll Warbler weighs in at about 10 to 12 grams (no more than half an ounce) which means you could mail two Blackpolls anywhere in the US for the price of a first-class stamp. But before the fall flight, Blackpolls nearly double their mass as they binge on insects, spiders, seeds, and fruit. They store the feast as fat and then burn it efficiently at sea.
Generally, the greater a bird’s fat reserves (as a percentage of its body weight) the farther it can fly without pausing to refuel. After all, risks await birds during those rest stops, including uncertain habitat and predation by hawks, house cats, and other animals.
Yet, the benefits of fat reserves and non-stop flight carry their own risks. A bird focusing on food before migration may be less alert and an easier mark for predators. A fatter bird may lack the acceleration and agility necessary to avoid hawks and falcons in flight. And for a warbler over the ocean, there is no rest stop, no port in a storm.
On balance, the Blackpoll Warbler, more fat than feather, takes a course evolution has charted at sea. Making the flight from, say, Maine to Brazil, a Blackpoll burns less fat than we find in a single serving of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch.
If only the rest of us had such good use for ice cream.