Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Early Spring Fallout of Birds
April 15, 2022
By Steve Grinley
If you woke up early this past Tuesday morning and looked out the window at the clouds, rain and drizzle, you might not have considered jumping in the car and going birding. But early morning reports of spring migrants at locations along the coast indicated a nice fallout of birds this past Tuesday. A“fallout” occurs when nocturnal bird migrants moving north on southerly winds hit a cold front from the north over our area, forcing birds to the ground. If conditions are right, areas can be covered with birds, some too numerous to count!
This Tuesday morning, thirty-five ruby-crowned kinglets, thirty golden-crowned kinglets, twenty eastern phoebe, twelve northern flickers, twelve hermit thrushes, twelve palm warblers, and a first of season Louisiana waterthrush were seen at the Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary. At Nahant there were seventy-five song sparrows, twenty swamp sparrows, five yellow-bellied sapsuckers, as well as multiple northern flickers, phoebes, kinglets, and hermit thrushes.
Then reports from Plum Island indicated that there were northern flickers and song sparrows everywhere! Numerous kinglets, juncos, hermit thrushes, purple finches, goldfinches, and sapsuckers were seen throughout the refuge. The year’s first gnatcatchers, vesper sparrows, towhee, and rough-winged swallows were observed.
Rick Heil of Peabody is one of the top birders in the state known for his keen eye, sharp hearing, infinite knowledge of birds and his meticulous record keeping. Rick was on the island for almost twelve hours that day, covering all accessible areas and recording 92 species. The day was best summarized by Rick:
“One of the best April fallouts I’ve experienced in Massachusetts occurred today resulting in likely thousands of grounded early tier spring migrants at Plum Island and elsewhere; South winds overnight in advance of an approaching cold front produced a moderately heavy movement into our region as evidenced by radar last night, which were then grounded when they hit the rain shield over our area and concentrated along the coast; Every single species was carefully counted and written down on paper in real time, then summed at the end of the day. 92 species observed.”
Among Rick’s counts were 6 Virginia rails, 3 American coot, 12 killdeer, 1 upland sandpiper “migrating over early morning around 0730 hrs., calling typical and familiar flight calls, described as ‘qui-di-di-du’,” 225 sanderling, 88 dunlin, 6 pectoral sandpipers, 18 osprey,
13 yellow-bellied sapsucker, 268 northern flickers – “Amazing showing; many birds moving north along the dunes and roadside thickets in the morning in flocks of 5-20+; at one site in the ‘S’ curves I counted 60+ in view at once, with 25 foraging along the roadside while I counted another 35 moving north; it went on like this all morning.”
26 eastern phoebes, 1 northern rough-winged swallow, 12 tree swallows, 37 ruby-crowned kinglets, 154 golden-crowned kinglets, My highest single day count ever; In loose flocks throughout the island thickets; there was a general movement north in the morning; I can only imagine how many more were present in inaccessible areas, especially in the extensive ‘New Pines’ area.”
58 hermit thrushes, 210 American robins, 24 purple finches, 70 American goldfinch, 15 fox sparrow, 151 dark-eyed juncos, 48 white-throated sparrows, 2 vesper sparrows, 312 song sparrows –“large flocks with juncos roadside in the morning; 70 at just one spot; seems late for this many.” 1 eastern towhee, 7 palm warblers, 6 pine warblers, and 11 yellow-rumped warblers.
Another mini “fallout” occurred on Thursday, with the morning starting out murky and foggy, but high numbers of several species were observed on Plum Island. So this spring, if the sun isn’t shining in the morning, it still may be worth jumping in the car and going birding!