September Birding Rich with Promise

Aug 28, 2013

Baird's Sandpiper
Credit Dominic Sherony / flickr

This next week is the best week of the year for Buff-breasted and Baird’s Sandpipers to appear on Cape Cod and the Islands. These globetrotters are on a tight schedule moving from the high Arctic to southern South America. If they do appear in our area, it invariably happens in a very small window of opportunity. That time is now. In fact, historically this next week promises to be excellent.

Also of note at this season, the next few weeks bring a chance for one or more of those intense tropical storms known as hurricanes. Powerful and disruptive low-pressure systems, hurricanes often displace bird species hundreds, and occasionally thousands, of miles from where they would normally be. They can transport pelagic birds from the South Atlantic to the North Atlantic, drive tropical birds into cold northern waters and disrupt migrating birds. While often causing short-term disastrous damage on certain species they are part and parcel of life for migrant and oceanic bird species. The birds are able to detect the approaching low pressure and are remarkably adept at “dodging the bullet,” so to speak.

More often than not, birders are disappointed after the passage of a hurricane precisely because so few birds got caught up in it. Occasionally, though, a hurricane will live up to its fearsome reputation. There have been times, albeit rare and decades apart, when after a major hurricane, Cape and Island beaches were entertaining bird life more appropriate to Florida than to Massachusetts. While not altogether good news for the birds, it provides lasting memories to birders, and all acknowledge that they have witnessed something they may never see again in their lifetime.