Saturday, September 1, 2012

Red breasted Nuthatch and Red Crossbill influx ongoing

Red-breasted Nuthatch, Prescott Peninsula, MA, Sept 1, 2012

Red Crossbills, Prescott Peninsula, MA, Sept 1, 2012

Red Crossbill, Prescott Peninsula, MA, Sept 1, 2012

Red Crossbills, Prescott Peninsula, MA, Sept 1, 2012

Red Crossbills, Prescott Peninsula, MA, Sept 1, 2012
Today I headed into Prescott Peninsula at dawn to visit the various field areas on the peninsula to get GPS coordinates and map them for next season as part of a study to inventory the various species that use and breed in this habitat (an unusual habitat in the largely forested Quabbin watershed). I managed to get to all the areas after a few detours due to some downed trees. I also used the day to catch up with the Red Crossbills there and see how the numbers compare to my last trip in. This time I found at least 30 in various small groups scattered around the mid to upper peninsula. I got some video and audio and have sent it out to some others to process it to determine the exact type of Red Crossbills seen and heard today. Last time all were proven or highly suspected to be Type 2. There appears to be a major irruption of Red Crossbills taking place with several types involved (more on this below). I also wanted to try and see how many Red breasted Nuthatch's would be around as this is usually a good spot for them and given the fact that a large incursion of this species appears to be underway I was hopefully for some good numbers. I was not disappointed! I had at least 189 of them and due to the downed trees mentioned above I was unable to access the areas that are usually best for this species on the peninsula. I'm sure if I was able to cover those areas too the numbers would have been even more impressive. The nuthatch's were never out of was the constant background noise for the day. Even my total of 189 is quite conservative as sometimes I forgot to even count them!
A little background information on the ongoing incursion into the area of Red Crossbills and Red-breasted Nuthatch's is in order and hopefully will provide some helpful info to anyone interested in this unfolding event. 

There appears to be an irruption of these two species of birds into the east at this point in time.  The Red Crossbills are moving into areas of the Great Lakes and northeast and this movement has become wider and more pronounced in the last few weeks.    The crossbills located on Prescott Peninsula were conclusively identified as Type 2 but now there is a great possibility of other types being involved in this ongoing incursion.  Here is a link to an earlier post regarding the determination of the specific type of Red Crossbill seen at Quabbin

I have included some e-mail correspondence between Matt Young (Audio Production Engineer At Cornell Lab of Ornithology) and I concerning the make up of the incursion as it relates to the various type of Red Crossbill.
Lots of type 3 and lesser number of 2’s are irrupting west to east right now. Lots of birds in Upper Great Lakes. Have received several recordings to analyze in recent days. I recorded 20+ Type 1 and 1 Type 10 in CNY two weeks ago as well.  (aug 23)

Just to clarify I know Type 10 is the most frequently occurring type from Adirondacks to northern Maine and southern Maritimes. Additionally, in winters where birds occur along the Mass coast, they are almost always Type 10. This happened to 2007 and 2009 I believe.  Nick Bonono sent me several recordings of Type 10 from Conn 2007...someone sent me Type 10 from Mass the same year... And others were recorded south to NJ as well. I consistently have been receiving Type 10 recordings from ADKS, NH, and Maine in recent years....additionally from upper Great Lakes a well. The weird thing is, this type is actually most common in Sitka spruce forests of northern California and southern Oregon. However, it’s not that strange to me, since Sitka spruce is similar to our red and white spruce in the NE ....and it would be great for Type 10 to feed on and persist. In some of the my recent North American Birds papers I’ve floated this idea that Types have a core zone of occurrence where they are most common and where a conifer species exists that they are most efficient at feeding on...I’ve also floated this idea that they have known Primary zones of irruption, or areas which have conifers that are similar to the conifers found in their core zone of occurrence. Type 1 is the Appalachian Crossbill, and could very well be a species. It is most common from southern NY to northern Georgia. This is another reason why it’s so important to get more recordings from Mass —there seems to be a split in crossbill occurrence and diversity somewhere occurring in central NY to Central Mass with Type 10 being most frequent northward, and Type 1 most frequent southward.  A few Type 2s are always around somewhere in the east. Type 3, and to a lesser extent Type 10, are highly irruptive in the east, however, all Type 3s retreat back to the Pacific Northwestern western hemlock forests come the May after the irruption. This looks like it’s going to be a year where Type 3s make a major push eastward. Type 4 is rare in the east, and I (with Greg Budney) recorded Type 5 once in the east back in 2006 —it’s the only known recording of Type 5 east of the Rockies.
As there are various types of crossbills associated with this incursion any one sighting them should do their best to capture some audio of the birds to determine the exact type. Determining the exact type is not only interesting but can help determine the range of these various types of wanderers
A great way to visualize the influx of birds is through eBird by going to explore data and mapping the reports of Red Crossbills.

Another example of how widespread the influx is can be found in this post from the Minnesota bird listserv from a couple days ago.

Thousands of Red Crossbills have been moving through Duluth in an unprecedented invasion. I began counting migrant raptors and non-raptors in Duluth (for Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory) on August 14th, and have now counted a total of 3748  Red Crossbills! This irruption is unusual not just in overall numbers, but also in timing, since most previous high counts of Red Crossbills in Minnesota have been in late fall and winter. Previous high counts include 215 at Hawk Ridge on 22 October 1988 (Nicoletti, The Loon 71:100), 205 at the Lakewood pumping station in Duluth on 12 October 1994 (Eckert, The Loon 67:47-49 ), 125 in Cook County on 13 January 1968 (Scherer, The Loon 40:47), and 106 on the Isabella CBC on 1 January 2006. By comparison, high counts this season have been 365 on 18 August, 603 on 23 August, 1252 on 24 August, and 705 on 25 August. I didn’t think Red Crossbill counts like this were even possible in Minnesota! Prior to this season, my counts

at Hawk Ridge/Lester River (during the last five seasons) have averaged only 179 birds, with a peak of only 56. For the most part, the Red Crossbills this August have been moving through in very large flocks, with up to 160 birds in one flock. For example, the 1252 birds recorded on 24 August included only 23 flocks (with an average flock size of 54). The majority of these birds appear to favor moving directly along the shore of Lake Superior (as counted from the Lester River condo count site) as opposed to higher up on the ridge (including several simultaneous morning counts from the Hawk Ridge main overlook count site). Some of these crossbills have landed to feed on the spruce cones in the Lakeside neighborhood, where I have seen them to be a small-billed type, perhaps type 3, but for the most part the vast majority of these birds have just continued south without stopping. Where did all these crossbills come from, where are they going, and why are they moving?

Karl Bardon

Duluth, MN

Red-breasted Nuthatch, Prescott Peninsula, MA, Sept 1, 2012
The other species staging a large influx into the area is Red-breasted Nuthatch.  I first noticed an increase in the number of Red-breasted Nuthatch’s several weeks ago but it has become much more pronounced in the last couple weeks.  Every day at home I have several and the species is present at most any location I walk at in the area with some hour walks producing dozens of birds.  The total number involved must be staggering.  The question is where did all the birds come from, why and will they stick around or continue further south?  It will be interesting to see how these two irruptions play out over the fall and winter and if other species become involved.  A quick look at the Massbird listserv achieve: shows a continued number of high counts of this species.  It has been seen out to South Beach on the Cape, outlying islands  and other coastal locations where it is typically unusual.  It is not unusual to get double digit counts in a mile of walking in the woods and triple digit counts covering several miles.
Pine Warbler, Prescott Peninsula, MA, Sept 1, 2012

Hooded Mergansers, Prescott Peninsula, MA, Sept 1, 2012
Prescott at dawn, sept 1, 2012

Solitary Sandpiper, Prescott Peninsula, MA, Sept 1, 2012

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Prescott Peninsula, MA, Sept 1, 2012

Besides the crossbills and nuthatchs there were a variety of other great birds around. I ran into some great mixed species flocks and managed to pull some great birds out of them including a Cape May Warbler (my first this year), Bay-breasted Warbler, three Canada Warblers, a couple Yellow-throated Vireos and the list goes on! In addition I had a juvenile Northern Goshawk fly past and give a brief look before it disappeared again. I believe this is only my third sighting of a goshawk on Prescott in all the times I have been down there. I included my entire eBird list to give everyone an idea of the overall birding for the day.

Prescott Peninsula (5:45am-2:00pm...13 miles)

Wood Duck 2
Mallard 3
Hooded Merganser 5
Common Loon 5
Great Blue Heron 2
Turkey Vulture 1
Cooper's Hawk 2
Northern Goshawk 1 Juv bird, no chance for a photo
Red-tailed Hawk 1
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Solitary Sandpiper 2 Together
Mourning Dove 5
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 6
Belted Kingfisher 1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 11
Downy Woodpecker 7
Hairy Woodpecker 3
Northern Flicker 9
Pileated Woodpecker 5
Eastern Wood-Pewee 7
Empidonax sp. 1
Eastern Phoebe 7
Great Crested Flycatcher 1
Yellow-throated Vireo 2
Blue-headed Vireo 4
Red-eyed Vireo 23
Blue Jay 27
American Crow 7
Tree Swallow 3
Black-capped Chickadee 68
Tufted Titmouse 2
Red-breasted Nuthatch 189 Minimum count, these guys were everywhere. Never out of earshot. Due to trees down at various spots I was never able to access the areas I typically get this species down there so the total number of bird present on the peninsula must be very large.
White-breasted Nuthatch 17
Brown Creeper 1
House Wren 2
Veery 6
Hermit Thrush 1
Catharus sp. 1
Wood Thrush 1
American Robin 17
Gray Catbird 34
Cedar Waxwing 36
Ovenbird 4
Black-and-white Warbler 4
Common Yellowthroat 39
American Redstart 21
Cape May Warbler 1 Female
Northern Parula 4
Magnolia Warbler 10
Bay-breasted Warbler 1 Male with some rufous still on sides
Blackburnian Warbler 2
Chestnut-sided Warbler 9
Black-throated Blue Warbler 2
Pine Warbler 31
Black-throated Green Warbler 21
Canada Warbler 3
Eastern Towhee 12
Chipping Sparrow 34
Song Sparrow 6
Scarlet Tanager 5
Northern Cardinal 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 6
Baltimore Oriole 5
Purple Finch 3
Red Crossbill 30     Groups of 3,3,4,6,2,2,8,2. Photos and video/audio taken to determine type. All sounded similar except one pair that certainly sounded different. I was unable to get any video/audio of that pair.
American Goldfinch 30

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