Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Ok so I'm a bit late in updating here but I've been kept busy birding and working and chasing Fork-tailed Flycatchers! I'll have more to say about that later.

So the last low pressure system did bring birds with it. We weren't inundated with hordes of southern warblers and vireos but there was a noticeable arrival of warblers on the Cape Race road at the extreme south eastern tip of the Avalon Peninsula. ( see map in previous post).

There is not much vegetation in this area and nothing much to hold deciduous tree loving migrants. In fact I don't think there is a single deciduous tree or shrub on the entire 21 km road. There might be a single small Mountain Ash but it could have died. What is there is tuckamoor. I'm planning on dedicating a post soon to "birding the tuck" as we call it. This refers to birders attempting to coax passerines from scattered,dense, tangly patches of stunted conifers. It's not an easy endevour but can produce some amazing results, but again that's for another time.

So, three of us hit the Cape Race road on Oct 9 and 10th. Our efforts resulted in 8 species of warblers and two Vireo species. Highlights included, Orange-crowned Warbler (3), Prairie Warbler (5),Palm Warblers (6-8),Nashville Warbler,Pine Warbler,Yellow-breasted Chat (2) and Warbling Vireo. There were also 6+ Yellow-billed Cuckoos, a bag of Baltimore Orioles and 6-7 Dickcissels.

So overall not bad for the area. On a standard day you could bird all of the Cape Race road in October and not see any passerines other than Savannah Sparrow. There was definitely an arrival.

So that was then and this is now. News broke yesterday of a Fork-tailed Flycatcher in Renews. In fact, I broke the news after opening an email from a contact down there. As soon as I opened my email and saw an email titled "stange bird" i got excited. I opened the email and was instantly floored! I never even opened the thumbnail images, it was already obvious that the bird pictured was an adult FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER!!

I bolted from the couch with Jen asking what, what's going on. I muttered something while getting my coat on. Fo... led ly..catcher. "what? she said. FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER!!, where are my keys!? Then, Jen says "We have to call people". Right..and when was the bird seen. In my excitement I had forgotten everything else. All I was thinking was, I have to get to Renews, now! I looked at the message again and it was apparent that it was seen very recently. I was now bordering on frantic. Before I could go I had to do a couple of things, I had to take the dog out and make some calls. I figured I'd combine these while Jen got ready. I was outside walking up the road with the dog trying to break the news on this bird.One by one, I either left messages or gave people the news. I returned home to find Jen ready and we hit the road. I had Jen make some other calls as I was driving.

Things were going well, I was swerving in and out of traffic, passing cars under questionable circumstances until we saw something up ahead- a police car, but was it? It was the right color the right model, it had an odd antenna thingy on top and some kind of white and blue reflective tape or something across the bumper, not to mention an RNC sticker on it!! There were two people in the car and one had obviously large aviator sunglasses on. That pretty much sealed it, we were behind a police car- great!

We were thinking what a great story it would be if we got pulled over by the cops, then somehow convinced them to give us a high speed escort right to the birds location. Since this was not likely to happen, we settled in and resigned to a slower than intended drive. Well, as it turns out these cops must have had somewhere to be because they were driving well over the speed limit and I was staying right behind them.I figured, they can't give me a speeding ticket to someone who is behind then right? Well, we tailed the cops almost all the way to Renews at about 25 km\hr over the speed limit and got there in almost record time. Now all we had to do was find the bird!

We made a pass through the area where it had been seen and nothing. We spoke to the discoverer and we were informed that it was on the wires directly above where we were standing only 15 minutes before we got there! Ok, we knew it was still around, it was only a matter of time. Soon, more birders arrived and we provided them with the info and split up. I took off in the car to broaden the search. Only about 5 minutes later my phone was ringing. I answered it and heard " we've got it, right where it was last seen!". I wasted no time getting there and finally on the wires, there it was, a perfect, adult Fork-tailed Flycatcher. This is a species I had chased in Newfoundland before but had not been successful and now here it was, it felt good, a big relief. It was a Newfoundland life bird and #264 on my current year list, putting me 17 species ahead of the previous record.

Forl-tailed Flycatcher seen while birding in newfoundland

5th Fork-tailed Flycatcher for Newfoundland but the first that stuck around long enough to be viewed by numbers of birders. (as of Oct 18 the bird is still around)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Will There be Birds or Won't There be Birds That is the Question!

Over the last few years I've been spending an inordinate amount of time studying weather maps and radars and then comparing those maps and radars to significant birding events in Newfoundland in an effort to better predict the types of weather patterns that lead to some of our fall outs of southern passerines. Predicting migration is no easy task in Newfoundland. Most places just wait for a cold front to pass through and they know that there will be bird movement on the back end of the low on NW winds. Actually I'm leaving a lot of stuff out there. Its not actually that easy at all but I'm not going to get into a detailed analysis of the conditions that favor bird migration just yet. I'll save that for later.

For now, I basically want to share some speculation with you all. After all, that's what birders do best- speculate. Speculate about their next year bird, the next life bird, county bird, province bird, ABA bird. You get the idea right? I'm speculating about bird migration, more appropriately reverse migration.

Now there is a term that is familiar to many birders but still completely foreign to others. Therefore, let me explain how I understand reverse migration. Lets start first by breaking down the term into its individual bits. First, lets take reverse. That should be easy enough. A common every day term. If you drive a vehicle you know it well as going backwards. This is true, for our purposes reverse will mean backwards or the opposite of what is commonly believed. Now migration. For our purposes we're only applying this to birds so lets say that migration is simply a movement of birds towards an INTENDED destination. What's important to note here is the terms movement and intended. Birds are moving and they are headed towards an intended destination.

So, now lets combine these two terms reverse and migration, as we have defined them. When we do that we can define reverse migration as "the movement of birds in a direction which is OPPOSITE to their intended or commonly believed destination." If you haven't guessed I'm feeling especially philosophical this evening. So more simply, if passerines are generally thought to undertake a North-South migration each fall,a group of passerines that have made a sudden movement south to north would be said to have undertaken a reverse migration.

Some people get all touchy over use of then term reverse migration, but most of these people are failing to apply the term comprehensively enough. Reverse migration takes in all reasons that birds might have to migrate away from their generally intended destination. Two of several reasons for reverse migration in birds, are weather and 180 degree misoriention. For example, a large flock of birds gets caught in a strong low pressure system and is swept north on SW winds. For an excellent example of this ,read this article about one of the most dramatic weather related reverse migrations ever!

Reverse Migrants in Nova Scotia

However,not all occurrences of off track birds, or reverse migrants can be explained by weather patterns. It is thought that some reverse migration in birds is due to a genetic defect that causes birds to migrate in the wrong direction by 180 degrees. Therefore, they go north when they should go south, west when they should go east etc. To my knowledge this is still somewhat theoretical but could explained some odd movement of birds. For example why are their Yellow-throated Warblers in St.John's every winter??

Anyway, lost in all of this rambling there was a point. I wanted to take a look at the weather maps over the past couple of days, compare them to the radar images of the same area and then actually get out in field to do some birding to see if any of this time spent analyzing this stuff actually pays off!

So lets start by looking at yesterday's weather map and the associated radar images for the eastern seaboard (for those who didn't know, we can see flocks of migrating birds on radar!!)

Weather Map for Oct 5- Notice the isobars running all along the NE Seaboard all the way south to North Carolina then turning NE and crossing Newfoundland

Radar Images for Eastern Seaboard for Oct 5

Base Reflectivity image from Fort Dix Base Velocity image from Fort Dix Base Reflectivity image from Dover AFB Base Velocity image from Dover AFB Base Reflectivity image from Upton NY Base Velocity image from Upton NY Composite Base Reflectivity image from the Northeastern USA

In watching the radar images note the large circular blobs that are growing and moving. Those are birds! Note that there are a large number of birds launching themselves out over the sea off of New York. Isn't it conceivable that some of those birds could get caught up in the south westerly flow and ride those isobars straight to Newfoundland?

Weather Map for Oct 6- Again the isobars are stacked around the eastern seaboard. This time they have moved a little father north and run basically from New York-Maine and wrap around straight to Newfoundland.

Radar Images for Eastern Seaboard for October 6

Base Reflectivity image from Fort Dix Base Velocity image from Fort Dix Base Reflectivity image from Dover AFB Base Velocity image from Dover AFB Base Reflectivity image from Upton NY Base Velocity image from Upton NY Composite Base Reflectivity image from the Northeastern USA

Once again we can see heavy migration all along the eastern seaboard. We also know that there is a pretty strong south westerly flow lying just off shore that is directing winds straight from New York to Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula. Now look at those blobs on the radar. Notice how they bulge out over the coast in several places. These are birds moving out over the ocean in an effort to move south along the eastern seaboard. Once again its' possible that some could get out there and get caught up in the strong south westerly flow and engage in a reverse migration by following those south westerly winds all the way to Newfoundland

Tomorrow I'll be up well before dawn enroute to check out the migrant hot spots on the southern Avalon. There are four locations high on my list of places to check, Powles Head,Cape Pine,St.Shotts and Cape Race. See the maps below to get an idea of where these places are located.

Map showing the locations of 4 excellent migrant traps on the southern Avalon Peninsula. From left to right St.Shotts, Cape Pine, Powles Head, Cape Race

A more local view of the migrant traps. The long 16 km road that leads to Cape Race can be particularly good for holding vagrant passerines

So there you have it. This is an example of how I might prepare for a day birding. Look at the weather maps, look at the radar,choose my route, then get out there and find some birds. Like I have said before,this is not a perfect science. It is easy to see that some birds definitely got swept out over the ocean over the last two nights but will they head towards Newfoundland. If they do, will they fall out at one of my intended birding sites. Even if all of the above works out I still have to locate and identify them in vast areas! When you consider all of this is seems like a miracle that we ever find any rarities at all!

More likely it means that the number of rarities present is actually far greater than we presume, we are just lucky enough to find a very small percentage of them!

I'll try to update tomorrow or the day after to let you all know how things worked out.

Page Under Construction

I just wanted to say that the page is under construction, that's why it's looking a little messed up right now. I'm working on improving the header image and blog description as well as a number of other things.

I think I like this look compared to the old look. Feel free to comment and let me know which one you like better!

Also, should say that new content is coming soon,like very soon, like tonight. I'm working on a post right no. unfortunately for those who have asked its not the Ringed Plover article. It's another weather analysis style post chalk full with some useful insight and lots of idle speculation. Anyway, look for that soon!

ps: I promise the Ringed Plover article will happen :/

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