Spring Migration No Letdown This Year for Avid Birders

May 8, 2014

Brown Boobies, once unheard-of on the Cape and Islands, have been sighted with increasing frequency in the last few years.
Credit Cláudio Timm / flickr

The invasion of European shorebirds and Northern Wheatears to Newfoundland continues, as the keep arriving in unheard of numbers: over 200 Eurasian Golden Plovers, 11 Black-tailed Godwits, 15 Northern Wheatears, 2 Redshanks and a Ross’s Gull. Sadly for those of us on the Cape and Islands and all over New England, none of these birds have been reported further south - they have all stayed in Newfoundland so far. As they get restless to return to where they wanted to go, they may yet wander to our part of the planet this spring.

A tropical species in the form of an adult Brown Booby was photographed on the beach at Great Point on Nantucket on the afternoon of May 4th. They are related to Northern Gannets that are flying by en route to breeding colonies in Canada. These comical looking seabirds live in the Caribbean and up until a few years ago were unheard of in Massachusetts. Then, as if adding fuel to the fire of questions about global warming, they have now been seen 4 years in a row. One summered in Cape Cod Bay, another landed on a boat south of the Vineyard, and they are being reported where a scant few years ago they were unknown!

One of the wonders of the natural world and perhaps the most exciting natural phenomenon that humans get to enjoy in this part of the world is bird migration. For migration the month of May, especially early and mid-month are fantastic. It is truly awe-inspiring when from seemingly out of nowhere, with no birds visiting the feeders or immediate area, it all suddenly comes alive with brightly colored Neotropical migrants.

The Beech Forest in Provincetown was rocking and rolling with birds last weekend and a dozen species of warbler were reported from there including a Yellow-throated Warbler which is quite rare in our region. Cinco de Mayo was out of control for birds on the Cape and Islands, particularly on Nantucket.

The north shore of Nantucket experienced a “fall-out” of birds that had traveled further east than they wanted and then were hit by strong northwest winds that forced them to make a landfall much like what occurs in the Gulf of Mexico during the spring migration. There were dozens of Baltimore Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, a dozen or more Orchard Orioles, Indigo Buntings, 2 Blue Grosbeaks, one of which was a male meaning it was blue and the other a non-descript brown female at feeders, in yards and in any flowering trees of which there are few. The planted ornamental cherries flower early and all the migrants were attracted to these trees.