This is a photo of an immature Peregrine Falcon of the race that breeds in Greenland with a band on its right leg. These are the most migratory of the worldÕs falcons the adults heading to Patagonia in southern South America for the winter before returning to its high Arctic breeding grounds in Greenland on an annual basis. That is a minimum of a 20 thousand mile annual commute and some huge open water crossings.
The Cape and Islands are a fickle place to bird at this time of year. Even though bird migration is clearly under way (ospreys have returned to enliven our skies, resident birds are singing at dawn and dusk, and American woodcock engage in courtship displays most evenings), it still doesn’t feel like spring. Yet this is the way spring is in our region, very different from what most of the continent experiences where the warming land blossoms with life. It is a subtle, slower season here with a gentle greening of the land and very slowly rising water temperatures.
How quickly things will change when the sun finally shows itself. Despite the completely weather-related whining in this column, the birding is improving and can be expected to virtually explode in the weeks ahead, especially when compared to what has happened for the past month. Birds are on the move, and by the end of next week, land birds will be much more obvious.
The region has been hosting some very fancy birds of late. Foremost are three individual northern lapwings, Eurasian plovers that have been delighting birders from around the country who have made the trek to Nantucket to see them. Two lapwings arrived on Oct. 30 on the heels of Hurricane Sandy, the third bird arrived on Feb. 26, and to have all three still hanging out in fields on Nantucket is without precedent. At least two tufted ducks, another Eurasian species, have been spotted with some degree of difficulty. One bird was a hen-type in Falmouth, and a drake has been seen on Nantucket. A drake king eider has been very obliging at the east end of the Cape Cod Canal, where a yellow-crowned night heron, a southern species that overshot the mark, has been reliable as well.
Diurnal raptors — including ospreys as well as red-tailed hawks, Cooper’s hawks, northern harriers and turkey vultures — are all very obvious of late. These species all breed in our area, and the sights and sounds of their courting are hard to miss when the weather is not terrible. They know what time it is, even though the temperatures have refused to cooperate.
Currently, red-tailed hawk pairs are engaging in courtship displays. They feature impressive aerial maneuvers including talons dragging through the air and performing spectacular loop de loops in impressive diving flight displays. They have been a common sight. The moth-like, deep wing beat flight of displaying Cooper’s hawks, seen all over the place this past week, gives these fast-flying predators that specialize in ambushing other birds, an entirely different look from what one is used to. Even the turkey vultures have been performing some rather neat acrobatics overhead of late, obviously not something they do when looking for roadkill.
Male ospreys are starting to be heard, even above downtown areas, as they engage in aerial flight displays involving a slowly ascending hover, usually with a fish in their talons, with lots very distinctive calling. Their relatively high-pitched calls (feeble sounding to many human observers) is seemingly at odds with these birds’ robust general impression. The birds arrive from wintering grounds and immediately set about repairing their nests, attracting or reaffirming pair-bonds with a mate and even in some cases getting right to the business of making another batch of ospreys.
Double-crested cormorants are returning to the region. The cormorant species that winters here is the great cormorant, with the occasional double-crested cormorant increasingly attempting to over winter. Both cormorants, while universally not considered attractive birds, when well seen at close range, particularly in a spotting scope, have shockingly brilliant turquoise eyes that contrast with their drab, dark plumage. It gives an observer an entirely different perspective on these much-maligned birds.
At any rate, the beginning of the expected horde of these fish-eating birds has returned. The vanguard of small flocks has descended on many Cape and Island tidal ponds, and large loosely formed migrant flocks flying in an erratic V-shape can be seen overflying on many days.
The most bird action in our area is still not on the land but in the waters surrounding it. The silver lining in all the cold, rainy weather is that with the persistent low visibilities and easterly winds, the Outer Cape’s eastern shore and both Vineyard and Nantucket sounds have all been crammed with migrating pelagic bird species. Northern gannets, breeding plumaged common loons, larger numbers of red-throated loons, breeding plumaged red-necked and horned grebes, breeding plumaged razorbills, large flocks of scoters and common eiders, as well as a variety of gulls, including black-legged kittiwakes and Iceland gulls, have all been seen repeatedly and in numbers over the past couple of weeks.
Certainly the spring has started slowly. It always does and can be painfully slow developing.
The best is still to come. As soon as the sun breaks through the perpetual overcast and the wind returns from the southwest, get ready, because the migration is going to rapidly accelerate. Until next week — keep your eyes to the sky!
E. Vernon Laux’s birding column appears every Saturday in the Cape Cod Times. Laux is the resident naturalist for the Linda Loring Nature Foundation on Nantucket. You can hear him on “Bird News” with Mindy Todd at 10 a.m. the first Saturday of the month on the Cape’s NPR station, WCAI, 90.1, 91.1 and 94.3. You can also listen to his “Bird News Commentaries” on Wednesdays at 8:35 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
source : capecodonline.com