Birds : Post Memorial Day
The Memorial Day Weekend did not disappoint as one of the best weekends of the year to look for and find birds on the Vineyard. Historically a hands-down winner, once again it provided some of the best birding of the spring migration, with both vagrants and visitors appearing in welcome numbers. And it didn't hurt that the weather was great all weekend long.
Visions of great birding on the Vineyard this past weekend due to the lateness of spring along the immediate coast - where it is always late - added to birders' excitement. Of course a large part of the reason why so many rare, unusual, and good birds seen over this particular weekend at the end of May is due to the sheer numbers of human observers out and about - either weekend visitors, those who have arrived for the summer, or locals who get out on this holiday weekend and vigorously scour the Island to see what they can find.
With weather during the spring migration this year in the northeast being "typical" with precipitation and cold, raw temperatures, it is hoped and expected that when "normal" weather finally returns there will be a widespread, very late movement of lots of delayed birds. Birds are very good at knowing what is ahead of them as they move north. They have to be, because every flight they take may lead to disaster.
For example let's look at blackpoll warblers' return flight north after wintering in northern South America as they return to nesting areas in spruce forests in southern Labrador in northeastern Canada. This species of warbler migrates the longest distance of any warbler in the Americas. They begin heading north in March, meandering dozens or even up to 100 miles a night across Central America, moving only when the weather is favorable.
Then at some point in April or early May they make a big over-water flight from the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico to the coast of Florida. From there they head north, flying on nights with southerly winds to push them along. Their goal is to return to the spruce forests just as the insects emerge to feed on new growth and as others of its kind. The first to arrive gets the pick of the best breeding sites and presumably the best mates. The danger of being first to arrive is that if bad (cold) weather lingers or a late season storm hits, there is nothing to eat. It is a delicate balancing act, each and every year.
The blackpoll warblers that are now in southern New Jersey will in all likelihood be arriving on their breeding territories in the spruce belt right around June 1. As the season progresses the birds' desire to get north increases. It seems likely that on one certain night in the next week there will be a massive movement of land birds making a final push to their respective breeding grounds.
Arctic-nesting shorebirds also make a last big push north and the end of May is the best time to see both numbers and variety of plovers and sandpipers on Island tidal flats and beaches. On the waters surrounding the Island there is lots of movement, particularly at first light and again near dusk. The end of May is an exciting time of movement and migration, especially for the birds that nest furthest north.
It also is a time of fervent activity among species that nest on the Island. For something different, try to go to bed early one night and get up about 4 am. Head out to a Land Bank Property or the State Forest and be amazed at the staggering amount and volume of bird song. All the singing birds are declaring their presence and defense of a breeding territory from others of their kind. It is one of the wonders of nature - of the world, even.
The string of constant frontal systems has delivered great numbers and varieties of birds to the Island. Orioles are still widespread, utilizing feeders, as are rose-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, a few scarlet tanagers, and orchard orioles as well. Because of the cool temperatures, many birds have been visiting feeding stations that normally don't do so at this season. Orioles and catbirds have been feasting on suet and birds - just doing whatever they must to survive.
Lastly, great egrets have been widespread and very easy to see along Beach Road between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, and elsewhere.
Until next week - keep your eyes to the sky!