Birds : Fast moving November
The month of November at the coast has everything, in terms of weather, that can be experienced in what always seems to be a brief 30 days. Strong frontal systems on the move duke it out, in a constantly changing tapestry of weather. From Indian summer to fierce northeast storms and snowstorms, there is no typical November day, except any day in November.
Change in the natural world never seems as abrupt as it does in November. One day will be balmy and the next frigid and blowing like stink. So apparently everything is normal in the great outdoors as extreme changes in weather have been the rule the past couple of weeks.
The first half of November is justly famous for really rare birds to appear not only on the Vineyard but also up and down the entire eastern seaboard. Predominant westerly winds push first-time migrants along until they hit the coastline. Hitting this barrier, the birds realize their navigational error and turn south following the coastline (i.e. land that provides essential water, food, and shelter) until they get much further south.
It is a great month for birders as the unsettled weather, late migrants, and the odd vagrant make a day afield all the more enjoyable. Birds from really far-flung places, vagrants in the true sense of the word, historically seem to turn up more in November than at any other time. Flycatchers from South America, alcids from the North Pacific or falcons from Asia, all seem possible in this most changeable of months. Birders, always on the lookout, constantly thinking about the next big bird - not the "Sesame Street" Big Bird but something like what occurred five years ago with the appearance of the America's first red-footed falcon at the Katama Airpark in Edgartown - know that this is the season.
Landbirds, sea ducks, and windmills
The number of sea ducks continues to build at Wasque on Chappaquiddick as well as off of Squibnocket in Chilmark and off the Gay Head Cliffs in Aquinnah. This gets me to thinking about large windmills. The long-term presence of sea ducks is threatened by the massive industrial project, benignly being called a wind farm and more appropriately called an industrial park, slated to be built on 24 square miles of Nantucket Sound
The proponents' experts claim that building these massive, moving towers would have no deleterious effects. That is an outrageous claim that flies in the face of decades of observation at coastal locations in the northeast. Having read just the portion of the environmental impact section relating to birds, this writer marveled at the audacity and conclusions. They extrapolated that less than 400 birds a year might be killed annually by all 130 towers. Coming to this result is a remarkable conclusion based on some kind of inferred fantasy.
The truth is that no one knows for sure what kind of bird kills will happen - whether light (few birds), medium (hundreds of birds) or heavy (thousands). Based on actually witnessing large kills of nocturnal migrants at radio and TV towers and skyscrapers in spring and fall, it would seem completely reasonable to assume heavy kills would occur at least on a handful of nights, particularly during the fall migration.
I have stood at various lighthouses at night in late August, September, and October in New England, many times in the past 40-odd years, listening and watching as migrant birds call. They utter contact notes and nocturnal flight calls, presumably to keep contact with other birds on foggy nights, nights the birds call more frequently and fly lower.
They are confused by the obscuring fog and are attracted to lights. They come down and often fly around the lights, become disoriented and either crash into the lighthouse or end up in the water. They call almost constantly, attracting other birds, resulting in a terrible toll. One can only imagine 130 lit towers more than 400 feet tall on a foggy night in September. The report submitted to the Army Corps by Cape Wind and then put out to the public as though it were prepared by the Army Corps utterly fails to address the bird kill issue. Now ask me what I really think.
Until next time - keep your eyes to the sky.