Saturday, April 17, 2010

The fickleness of migration

With north or northwest winds and cool weather, who would have thought that today was going to be a good migration day? Granted, it wasn't exactly epic but it was a heck of a lot better than I expected, and until a shower around 10:30, the birding was downright good. For a while I thought I had been warped into some kind of alternative reality, for birders came up to the platform saying "probably not much today, huh?" and I thought 'are you kidding? Just look everywhere around you!'

The shower shut things down, and afterwards it never came back to quite the same pitch.

I thought I had a great kestrel flight on my hands when I had 6 kestrels in the first hour of the count. These birds go all day and are often a more numerous migrant in the afternoon. I ended up with a somewhat disappointing 65. Osprey, surprisingly, came in second, with 23. None of the coastal sites south of Sandy Hook (or I should say neither of those sites) reported any significant Osprey movements over the last couple of days, so where these birds are coming from, beats me. Fort Smallwood Park, a count site in Pasadena, Maryland, had a modest wave of kestrels yesterday. Their last kestrel peak was 25 on the 5th of April - I had 85 a day later. Yesterday they had 17 kestrels - today I had 65. Note how similar those ratios are!

With 13 individuals counted, the Merlin flight today was solid as expected, but nothing more. Curiously, Cape Henlopen Hawk Watch in Delaware - that other site south of here - had way more Merlins these past three days than kestrels: 31 Merlins against only 4 kestrels. How to explain that? Where did today's kestrels come from? Conversely, my early wave of Merlins barely registered with them. Here this Merlin wave occurred between April 6-12, when a total of 64 Merlins passed the Hook. Cape Henlopen had 20 Merlins during that time frame. It's curious and quite fascinating to see these regional differences in migration patterns!

Before the shower, a good number of swallows were pushing through, as well as a couple of Forster's Terns, several Great Blue Herons, a Chimney Swift and a Purple Martin. Other good birds today included Bonaparte's Gull (2), Glaucous Gull (1), Blue-winged Teal (2), Glossy Ibis (2), Wilson's Snipe (4), and Greater Yellowlegs (6).

A number of beginning birders came up to the platform today in hopes of seeing an American Bittern, the bird pictured at the top of today's post. No doubt they had read about bittern sightings here on the listserv, and wanted to see that bird for themselves. More experienced birders, and certainly the Sandy Hook regulars, know that these birds are hard to see. I've seen and heard them occasionally these last couple of weeks, but that's because I am there all the time. You cannot expect to walk up to the platform and be willing to spend 15 minutes max there and see this bird. That's not how it works.

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