Birds : October arrives
Early October is as good as it gets. This is a fantastic time of year for birding. There are birds everywhere, as everything comes together in a perfect synergy of weather, birds, fish, and shortening photoperiod to create the absolute perfect time of year. From common to rare, big to tiny, birds are on the move.
Mixed in with the more common species are some bona fide rarities. Sorting through all the common birds to get to the rare birds is a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. At this time of year, the Vineyard is one of the finest birding locations in New England. Many "weekend warriors" come from the mainland to bird this under-birded Island.
Peregrine falcons are on the move and almost a daily sight. These tremendously strong flyers can and do go wherever they want, whenever they want. The majority of the falcons passing by are birds that nest in northern Canada, Baffin Island, or Greenland. The Latin name of these birds is Falco peregrinus, which essentially means wandering falcon. They are found on every continent except Antarctica and on many remote and distant offshore islands.
They are capable of capturing and eating almost any bird. I have seen these birds, 300 miles from land, just coasting along a few hundred feet in the air, reaching down and taking bites out of some bird they took on the wing. Superbly adapted to their particular lifestyle, they don't need to land to eat or rest, and they fly with the greatest of ease.
The peregrines that pass by are mostly heading to southern South America. It seems the further north they nest; the further south they go to spend the winter. Other peregrine falcons that nest in Massachusetts may overwinter along the state's coast or move farther south.
Unless one has been rigged up with a satellite transmitter, it is impossible to say what an individual bird will do. What is certain is that this species can and does do almost anything in terms of migration. This species, with its many subspecies, is clearly the most successful raptor on the entire planet. The osprey also has a worldwide distribution and is very successful, as well.
The Island has been jumping with lots of reports from lots of birders. Rather than list the birds, suffice it to say that the birding has been terrific and a wide variety of species has been seen. The mix is shifting away from insectivorous flycatchers, warblers, vireos and the like to more seed-eating (finches and sparrows) and frugivores types of birds. Robins, cedar waxwings, blackbird, raptors, sea ducks, and sparrows are increasing in numbers and many of these birds are now arriving to spend the winter here.
The appearance of large numbers of yellow-rumped warblers, the last of the warblers to appear in migration and a common overwintering species, signals the end of the warbler migration. Impressive numbers, hundreds of these birds, were visibly on the move over this past weekend. With so many yellow-rumps around, it essentially swamps the observer, making it difficult to find anything else.
The waters surrounding the Island are getting crowded with bird life. Migrating loons, grebes, a wide variety of ducks, northern gannets, and many species of gulls are enjoying the bounty of seafood present. With the gales of November just around the corner, not to mention the 40 mph winds on Friday morning, and decreasing water temperatures, small fish are slowing down and big fish and birds are there to eat them.
Over the next month, the waters continue to get increasingly productive for birds, while the land birding gets less interesting. Still, the next few weeks are inordinately good for rare birds. Vagrant flycatchers always come to this writer's mind as the calendar ticks into October. More typical, almost expected rarities like the western kingbird should appear, and the chances for an ash-throated flycatcher or some long-tailed tropical-looking beauty like a scissor-tailed flycatcher or fork-tailed flycatcher from South America are very real.
Blackbirds and sparrows are abundant right now. Several huge flocks of mixed blackbirds, comprised primarily of common grackles with smaller numbers of red-winged blackbirds, European starlings, and brown-headed cowbirds are roaming the Island. They can show up anywhere and one big flock has been daily visiting the woods on Lambert's Cove Road both in Tisbury and West Tisbury. Should they descend on your yard you can count on your feeders being quickly emptied.
Until next time - keep your eyes to the sky.