Saturday, October 15, 2011

The winds have changed...and may bring odd birds

The weather had turned from rainy and somewhat warm yesterday to sunny, cooler and windy today with some late afternoon showers.  The wind was slight to begin with in the morning but increased and stayed steady out of the southwest for the entire rest of the day.  This weather pattern at this time of year could result in some oddities showing up from out west or down south (although mainly these birds would be pushed to the coast).  A nice discussion of this can be found on Massbird in a post from Marshall Iliff from Cornell.  Here is a bit of that post:


Several conditions are aligning this weekend to make for what may
potentially be a great weekend for birding and could very well bring an
additional slug of top-level rarities.

Rare bird prognostications are an imperfect science, for sure, and certainly
I won't be totally surprised to be completely wrong. But for those who like
a challenge, are interested in the science of birds and weather and the
not-so-random appearances of "vagrants", this would be a good weekend to get
out afield.

Here are a few things to think about:

1) This fall has already had a large number of rarities turning up. I assume
this is due to the same dip in the jet stream that has brought us such cool,
moist weather all summer and fall, yet with consistent southerlies. Consider
the birds recently: Lark Bunting; Smith's longpsur in ME; multiple
Ash-throated Flycatchers (Plum Island and Winthrop); Townsend's Warblers in
NJ and MD; Black-throated Gray Warbler in NJ; Green Violetear
and Bell's
Vireo in Maryland, etc.

2) The long, trailing offshore system a couple weeks ago produced one of the
more impressive fallouts of southern passerines along the coast from Boston
to central Maine. (My impression is that birders did not cover places like
Cape Ann well enough; Cape Ann may have been superb on Sunday and Monday 2-3
Oct, but the best coverage there was 5-6 days later). Impressively, many of
the birds (Hooded Warblers, White-eyed Vireos, Summer Tanager, cuckoos etc.)
have persisted through this week and some are setting very late records
(e.g., the multiple recent Yellow-throated Vireos). Since some of these
birds may still be around in coastal thickets, it is yet another reason to
get out and look.

3) Most importantly, this weekend's weather could very well bring some new
rarities. We are now in the middle of two very wet cold fronts moving up
from the south (as did the system 2 weeks ago that brought these southern
landbirds). This wet weather is scheduled to clear tonight and behind it a
third low pressure system will bring strong westerly winds. This system has
been tracking across southern Canada and the Great Lakes and will have
pretty long wind fields that have good potential to displace birds--in other
words, this could be a good weekend for vagrants. Over the weekend wind is
forecast (at e.g., Gloucester) to be 15-20 mph or higher from the WSW or SW.

This system does not have the "ideal" conditions to displace southwestern
birds to New England. This type of system--best known for Cave
Swallows--would have southwesterly winds in advance of a long front that
trails far down into Texas and northern Mexico. When these conditions occur

in early November, Cave Swallows occur and often a smattering of other
unusual species (Ash-throated Flycatchers, rare eastern warblers, etc.) crop
up as well.

While a longer field of southerly winds might be nice, any westerly
component connected to far away lands has a lot of potential to produce
rarities. The wind fields should be almost continuous from the Great Lakes
to the Northeast coast, so we might optimistically hope for some
displacement of October migrant species from those areas. Some possibilities
might be Le Conte's Sparrow, Sedge Wren, Say's Phoebe, Western Kingbird and
(long shot) Smith's Longspur or Sprague's Pipit. Sandhill Cranes and rare
geese like Greater White-fronted and Ross's could be in the cards. And in
1998 a somewhat similar system produced a massive East Coast fallout of
Franklin's Gulls. While this system may be north of big concentrations in
Kansas now (see eBird, of course, for current Franklin's flocks:**), it is a species to think about. However, I
think the 1998 system was significantly stronger, so if this storm does
produce Franklin's, it is unlikely to displace the hundreds that reached the
East in 1998

With the chance of some rarity potentially showing up, the excitement of going out in the morning always increases a bit.  I began at dawn at Winsor Dam at Quabbin and then continued to various other areas of Quabbin Park.  The interesting bird of the day was a swallow species seen distantly from the area of the blueberry patch in Quabbin Park.  It was too far away to ID to specific species but was certainly a swallow.  It appeared dark above and light (but not white) below.  Given the time of year the default swallow would be Tree Swallow but given the weather conditions anything is possible.  It would have been nice to have the bird closer and had a better look.  There was a variety of waterfowl around but nothing too unusual.  A flock of 14 Horned Grebes was very neat to see.  Beyond that just a few Common Loons, Common Mergansers and a few others.  I returned a few more times to Quabbin during the day but found nothing too out of the ordinary.

White-winged Scoter, Quabbin park, Oct 14, 2011

White-winged Scoter framed by trees close to shore, Quabbin park, Oct 14, 2011

I'm including a photo of a White-winged Scoter I had very close to shore yesterday at Quabbin Park.  This species is seldom seen so close to shore here so it was a good sighting as far as I'm concerned.  It will be interesting to see if tomorrow brings anything new.

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