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In This Place

A Roundup of August Birding

Mark Faherty

It’s mid-August here in everyone’s vacation destination, the beginning of the home stretch to Labor Day, and a busy time for business, and birds. Hopefully you have some time to get out and appreciate our feathered natural heritage, because there’s a lot happening in the bird world. More than 300 species have been recorded on the Cape in August over the years, with 170 species already reported by birders so far this month, including many that are on the move.

On the beaches, shorebird numbers will peak in the next few weeks as the youngsters are now arriving from the Arctic breeding grounds, finally joining the adults that abandoned them there in July. Single flocks of between three and seven thousand Semipalmated Sandpipers, over three thousand Short-billed Dowitchers, and two thousand Semipalmated Plovers have been counted at various roosts between Chatham and Eastham. Close to 30 species of shorebird, meaning sandpipers and plovers, can be expected here this month, plus a few unexpected rarities. Such as the uber rare Common Ringed Plover, from Europe, that was reported flying over Lieutenant Island in Wellfleet this week. Ordinarily I would dismiss this report as absurd, as they are all but identical to our Semipalmated Plover, but the reporter was world famous bird field guide author and artist David Sibley, so I guess I’ll believe it.

In other news, songbird breeding season has mostly wound down, with just a few goldfinches still nesting. One pair of Chipping Sparrows is still feeding some fledglings in my yard, but everyone else seems done. In fact, songbirds have been moving around in various ways since early July – some warblers and orioles are already headed to Central America, while others are roaming around locally while they molt or fatten up. These movements come in unpredictable pulses – on Saturday my yard was full of birds, including the sudden appearance of a couple of orioles not previously present, and a migrating Yellow Warbler. The next day was dead. You can expect orioles and other migrants to come and go like this through October, especially after cold fronts pass.

You may have noticed that our local Eastern Screech-Owls have become vocal in recent weeks, which happens every August as adults try to keep track of the recently fledged young. I love these guys and their calls, so I look forward to this time of year. A few nights ago the soft sound of a screech owl came through my open bedroom window at the exact moment some distant coyotes began their excited yips, a collaboration that lent some much needed wildness to an otherwise tame suburban soundscape. Turn off that central air and open your window so you can hear the call, too.

Many know the screech owls’ two eerie, tremulous primary calls, one a whinny and the other a monotone trill. But Monday night I heard one giving soft little barks in my yard, just audible over the tv, which is a seldom heard call of theirs. In the course of researching this piece, I learned that screech owl chicks start calling in the egg 4 days before hatching – I suspect that will be the most adorable fun fact you hear today.

Lastly, in good news, the mysterious bird illness to our south, which reached as close as Pennsylvania, has subsided with no real damage to bird populations. Pennsylvania’s wildlife agency gave the all clear to resume bird feeding. It was never confirmed in New England, and now we’re just holding tight and waiting for Mass Wildlife to give the ok to resume feeding here as well. If they do, you’ll hear it here first. Unless it doesn’t happen on a Tuesday, in which case you’ll hear it somewhere else, I guess. It’s really just a weekly thing I’m doing here.