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Migration Season's End Brings Birds of Many Kinds

Jim Conrad / public domain


While bird migration is essentially happening year-round in some form or another, the start of June brings with it perhaps the most abrupt and definitive end to any migration season.


The symphony that is spring songbird migration reaches a crescendo in mid-May, with a gradual decline toward the end of the month, narrated by a Greek chorus of Blackpoll Warblers. The splendidly-plumaged shorebirds also quickly disappear as they bolt for the high Arctic, seemingly overnight. Assorted late migrants pass through briefly into early June, mostly flycatchers, many unnoticed. But this year was different, and we were treated to a big, splashy finale to spring migration, offering us Cape Codders one last glimpse at some well-traveled denizens of northern forests.

Late last week brought an impressive fallout of flycatchers and late warblers to our region, with reports of several scarce species well above expected levels. Birds I have never seen on Cape, like Acadian Flycatcher, showed up in multiple places, as did Olive-sided Flycatchers, which I have seen only once or twice here. The famously sudsy pneumonic for their memorable song is, “quick three beers”! Alder, Willow, and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers all made multiple appearances.

Normally uncommon, Tennessee Warblers were easy to find by the end of the week – I had three males countersinging at Wellfleet Bay sanctuary on Friday, warming up their vocal chords to defend some patch of spruce forest in Canada next week. Incidentally, research shows that Tennessee Warblers benefit from shade grown coffee plantations in the winter, so keep buying that bird friendly coffee.

While these flycatchers and warblers signaled the end of normal migration, the atypical number of southern vagrants is continuing into June, with more reports this week of Mississippi Kites and Black Vultures at Pilgrim Heights in Truro and elsewhere. Mississippi Kites have bred in Connecticut and New Hampshire in recent years, representing a huge range expansion, and we are overdue to find a nest in Massachusetts. Maybe this is the year.

The Upper Cape is where it’s at right now for interesting, late lingering migrants and attempted breeders from the south. Santuit Pond in Mashpee has been on a hot streak, hosting what is currently the state’s only Kentucky Warbler, a skulking but lovely songbird of southern forests, as well as an Acadian Flycatcher, also a southerner. Falmouth Town Forest by Long Pond held a Yellow-breasted Chat singing it’s strange, halting song for over a week, one of only two seen in Massachusetts this spring. Lastly, Crane Wildlife Management Area in Falmouth once again has at least one Blue Grosbeak, a species in the early stages of colonizing New England.

Speaking of lingering birds, echoes of the winter finch invasion continued into June, with reports of Pine Siskins, and two Red Crossbills, all in Wellfleet. I was excited to find a pair of Red Crossbills at my house a week ago, a new species for what is perhaps the most treasured of all bird lists, the “yard list”. While a few Red Crossbills and Pine Siskins may rarely stay into late spring after an invasion winter, there are no previous June records for Evening Grosbeak on the Cape and Islands, until Monday when one visited a Wellfleet feeder.

I’m blaming the lack of a clear theme and story arc in this week’s bird report on the sheer number of birds coming at us from all parts of the space-time continuum – north, south, winter, summer. It may not make for good writing, but it sure makes for good birding, so let’s hope for an equally disjointed effort next week.

Mark Faherty writes the Weekly Bird Report.