Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Bird Migration Peaks and Ebbs
May 27, 2022
by Steve Grinley
Last week I told you about one of the most amazing birding days on Plum Island in the last half-century. Monday, May 16th was talked about for many days following. I can’t leave it behind without sharing with you the eloquent description of the day from local birder and author Doug Chickering of Newbury, who coined the phrase “fallout in the fog”:
“Except for the fog, everything about birding yesterday on Plum Island, can only be classified as exhilarating. And even the fog had its place. It was like a shroud of mystery, hanging over the scene. What was behind the curtain of fog? Was this going to be a good day or bad one? When I first drove onto the refuge, I was a little concerned about what the dreary day would bring. It would bring one of the most extraordinary and interesting days of my birding life. A fallout in the fog
“I parked in Lot one and joined a group of birders at the first middens. It was still pretty early in the morning and the fog made the visibility uncertain. Then the first indication that this was something different occurred when I noticed both movement and the sound. The birds were calling, giving testimony to the activity around us. And then there were the tiny silhouettes, pirouetting into the sky or shooting in from another bush. as people would occasionally call out a find. Then suddenly the magic as a Warbler would suddenly appear from the bush right in front. Coming out for a look to the plaudits of the crowd.
“This was it, this was the day we always wish for in the middle of May. And like all who were present I have encountered such a crush of images and discoveries and surprises, that they are difficult to sort out and remember clearly. The thing that stands clear in my immediate recollection was the sheer number of small passerines. I walked the road from Lot 1 to the Wardens and there was no bad place to stop. There was perpetual movement by the side of the road. You would see a flurry of a bird in a tree and when you stop you see another, probably closer. In this fashion I saw more Bay-breasted Warblers this day than I have seen ever before; possibly cumulative. The most numerous as far as I could determine were either Parula’s or redstarts. Or maybe black-and-whites. It was thrilling and overwhelming. It will take some reflection before I can really appreciate what I experienced. It was also one of those days when the true birder; the one used to disappointments and missed opportunities will be come a little haunted. There are birds all around and I haven’t seen them all and it’s great,,,, but I wonder what it is like at Marblehead?
“After the long day and the excitement, I grow weary. Of course, I am going out early tomorrow morning.”
Doug’s comment “but I wonder what it is like at Marblehead?” refers to every fallout event along the coast in which every serious birder wonders what is happening at every coastal location. If it is this good here, what it is like on Eastern Point, Marblehead, Nahant or the coast of New Hampshire? It was great in all these locations on that day as well!
What made this event so special was the presence of so many warblers on Plum Island the rest of the week. Each day that week one could see fifteen or more species of warblers with multiple numbers of most. Even the more sought after blackburnian , Cape May, and bay-breasted warblers could be found in multiples.
Migration has slowed considerably this week. Late migrants such as mourning warbler, cuckoos, yellow-bellied and olive-sided flycatchers have kept things interesting. Now the resident birds are settled in with Baltimore and orchard orioles, house wrens, yellow warblers, redstarts, indigo buntings, and red-eyed vireos all singing away, establishing territories, building nests and, for some, sitting on eggs already. We look forward to what June will bring.