Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Hawks, Seabirds and Songbirds on the Move
September 20, 2014
By Steve Grinley

     Hawk migration is in full swing now. Last Sunday, 7649 broad-winged hawks were counted by the Mt. Wachusett Hawk Watch in Princeton. They also counted 39 bald eagles, bringing their eagle count up to 83 thus far this season. The bald eagles have definitely come back strong. On Monday, the hawk watch tallied almost 2000 more broadwings in addition to the smaller numbers of falcons (kestrels, merlins and peregrines) and accipiters (sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks).

     Though the fall hawk migration is mainly more inland, you may want to keep an eye to the sky in the weeks ahead. If you can find a higher elevation with a clear view of the northern sky, you may see some hawk movement, particularly when winds are from the north or northwest. Hawks like to ride the midday thermals, circling high in the rising air to conserve energy (instead of flapping their wings). They will then swoop down in a southerly direction to catch the next thermal to ride.

     However, instead of heading to the hills last weekend, we decided to join the Brookline Bird Club weekend trip to outer Cape Cod. We hadn’t been to the Cape all summer (thus, avoiding the crowds), and we were hoping to catch some songbird migration and perhaps see some seabirds as well. We had sunshine both days, but more wind on Sunday. 

     Our leader, Bob Stymeist of Arlington, took our small group to all the nooks and crannies of Wellfleet on Saturday. We did quite a bit of walking and checked many thickets and tangles for migrants. When Bob would find a likely spot, he played a screech owl tape to try to draw in birds. Birds get defensive of their territory and often gather and “mob” a predator, often scolding until the intruder leaves. Chickadees were almost always the “first responders”. They seemed the more brave and fearless, coming close to the recorder, making an angry “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” call. 

     The chickadees would be soon joined by other resident birds including nuthatches, titmice, cardinals, towhees, robins, catbirds, pine warblers, common yellowthroats, red-eyed vireos, Carolina wrens and downy woodpeckers. I was somewhat surprised to see so many red-breasted nuthatches respond as we haven’t seen many of them on the North Shore this year. We were hoping for some migrants and we did find a few. 

     Philadelphia vireos were the prize. We always feel lucky to see one or two during fall migration, as we almost never see them in the spring. So we were all elated to see three in one tree and we saw a total of six for the trip! We were also hoping for more warblers, more variety and greater numbers. But we did see a total of ten species with the highlights being Cape May and prairie warblers, and an unexpected ovenbird.

     Other highlights on Saturday were a yellow-bellied flycatcher and a least flycatcher, as well as two brown creepers, a scarlet tanager and a Baltimore oriole. Our tally for just Saturday, and just within the town of Wellfleet, was a respectable 89 species!

     Sunday, we concentrated more on the shore and ocean around Provincetown and Truro. We saw a nice selection of shorebirds including several whimbrel, an American oystercatcher, and fifteen ruddy turnstones (that were huddled on the rocks, out of the wind, next to MacMillan Pier in Provincetown within feet of us!). We were watching the terns and laughing gulls at Hatches Harbor in Provincetown as half a dozen jaegers, the “hawks” of the ocean, chased terns, trying to steal fish from them. They put on quite an acrobatic show in the process, which was great fun to watch. 

     The wind was really howling when we got to Race Point, as it usually is whenever I am there. It made it hard to keep the scopes steady. There were streams of shearwaters moving along the water, fairly close in. Most were Cory’s shearwaters, but there were great, sooty and a few manx’s shearwaters in the mix. Gannets were zooming by as well along with the usual gulls and common terns. Among the terns I was able to pick out a roseate and two black terns among them.

     We then went on to Head of the Meadow beach in Truro where we could get more out of the wind. There was an endless river of shearwaters passing by, a little further out than the ones at Race Point, but an amazing number constantly passing through our scopes. Many gannets also were flying by and some occasionally diving for food. A jaeger or two were also represent there as well.

     Our final species count for the weekend was 103. We are planning another trip to the Cape this Sunday for a pelagic boat trip out of Chatham. We are expecting even closer views of shearwaters and jaegers from the boat and, hopefully, a few surprises. We are just hoping that the wind is calmer than last weekend!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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