At this time in July, gulls are fledging young, the beaches are crowded with people, making it time to talk about behavior at the beach. Gulls are adaptable, and once they figure out how to find a meal they quickly learn new behavior. The gulls I am talking about belong to the following species - Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull and Laughing Gull. They have beach smarts, often operating like a rogue gang, terrorizing beach goers. They are getting smarter as you read this.
While most Cape and Island residents and visitors thought little of Hurricane Arthur, its arrival here on the 4th of July was very bad news for many nesting birds. Nantucket and the Outer Cape were lashed with Tropical Storm Force winds that quickly started from the NE at 7:30 P.M. at a steady 50 miles per hour, gusting to 70, until almost midnight with Nantucket reporting some hurricane force gusts accompanied by torrential, wind-driven rain.
With the Fourth of July just a couple of days way and fledgling “baby” birds seemingly everywhere, there are some not-so-subtle changes going on in the natural world. Most noticeable in fields and woods is the rapid and pronounced decrease in bird song. Recovering from the exhausting ordeal of defending a territory, courting, mating, providing for a brood of young birds all the while on the alert for a wide variety of predators, the adult birds are eating, resting and growing new feathers.
As the days continue to lengthen, the summer solstice is almost upon us. While June is a time of frenetic activity for local nesting birds, my mind always wanders to what is happening much further north, in the Arctic. Everything in this land of extremes is so different from temperate and tropical regions that, for humans visiting the region, it is otherworldly.
The Cape and Islands near shore waters are currently experiencing a visitation of Sooty Shearwaters. These remarkable birds are one of the most abundant seabirds on the planet and are found in every ocean. Their only need for land is for use as a platform to lay a single egg; they are dependent on the ocean for all their needs.
Birds, the most mobile and migratory of animals, are at their most vulnerable while nesting.
Right now the breeding season is in full swing for Cape and Island bird life. Some species - the Neotropical migrants that only have one brood - are close to finishing their nesting chores, while others like Mourning Doves and American Robins are well into round two.
The Memorial Day Weekend just past was fabulous despite the weather forecasters being wrong about the weather for the entire weekend. The Cape and Islands had OK weather, throngs of people were everywhere and the familiar traffic patterns of summer reasserted itself for a short while. As always the birding was hard to beat and the last push of migrant landbirds arrived on the morning of May 25th as well as good numbers of shorebirds. Spectacular numbers of birds were seen at North Monomoy and off of Chatham all weekend long.
Last weekend as birders scoured the Cape and Islands, many taking part in a Birdathon raising funds for bird conservation, a wealth of birds were found. An egret from the Old World, a Little Egret was discovered on Nantucket where North America’s first Little Egret was discovered some twenty five years ago. A lingering Snow Goose and a Snowy Owl were also found, birds that should be long gone, far to the north of this region in mid-May. Despite a dearth of migrant thrushes, vireos and warblers, the determined birders managed to find many unusual birds.
We are fortunate to live in the northeastern United States with its fabulous display of remarkable, gem-like, wood warblers that pass by in their gaudy spring plumage, and then again in the fall when much drabber, when they are known as confusing fall warblers. These beautifully marked long-distance migrants are some of the best looking birds in the world. These small insectivorous birds spend the winter in the Caribbean, Central and South America and only grace us with their presence during a brief breeding season.
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.