The parade of birds continues on
Happy first day of meteorological summer! It never really feels like summer here until the tourist explosion in early July, but it helps to think of this last shoulder month, when us locals can get some beach time in, as “summer”. June 1 marks a symbolic transition point in the bird world as well, from migration season to hardcore breeding season. Some local birds have been breeding since March, or sooner, but now the last of the stragglers are back and everyone is getting down to the business of making more birds. But is migration really over?
Migration season went out with a bang, with out-of-range rarities like a Wilson’s Plover in Chatham, a Franklin’s Gull at Race Point, and huge Sandhill Cranes who, oddly enough, were walking tamely about on school ballfields in Chatham and Mashpee. And birds I seem to talk about every week now, Swallow-tailed and Mississippi Kites, continue to turn up. These impressive aerialists won’t be sitting in a tree on the side of Rt 6 like a Red-tailed Hawk, they will be overhead somewhere. Perhaps no birds better exemplify the catch phrase of the Bird Report’s legendary originator, Vern Laux – if you want to see a kite, then “keep your eyes to the sky”.
In reality, migration is never “over” on the Cape and Islands - something is always coming or going, even in the relative birding doldrums of June. Stragglers among the songbirds will still be arriving in the coming week or more, things like cuckoos and flycatchers in the painfully hard-to-identify Empidonax genus, like Willow, Alder, and Acadian Flycatchers. Luckily these last three should be singing, giving us a fighting chance to identify them. Listen for Willow Flycatchers at Fort Hill in Eastham – good luck finding the others.
And while most have passed through, laggards and non-breeders among the arctic-nesting shorebirds will still be around, some until they are bumping into their more ambitious breeding brethren who are already heading south again in July. At that point these loiterers will likely look sheepish and mutter something about not having the “bandwidth” for migration and breeding this year, but they plan to circle back to it next year.
Offshore seabirds, some fleeing austral winter, will be migrating into the region throughout June –in fact, the first Sooty Shearwaters were reported over the weekend. These wind masters have just arrived from breeding islands at the other end of the hemisphere, mainly the Falklands. Under ideal conditions they can cover over 1000 miles in a day, most of that without flapping. Fun fact – a massive 1961 “wreck” of thousands of Sooty Shearwaters who crashed into Central California towns in the fog was the inspiration for Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. If that bird factlet ever wins you pub trivia, let me know.
Great Shearwaters will be close behind the sooties, coming from islands in the middle of the South Atlantic, and Wilson’s Storm-Petrels are already here a bit earlier than usual. These floppy little seabirds come even further, having left Antarctic breeding islands not long ago. Look for these charming little seabirds pattering along the surface with dangling feet on your next whale watch. In addition to these expected regulars, expect any number of lost seabirds to turn up at Race Point in Provincetown, like Little Gulls and the occasional Royal Tern.
The main bullet point of this week’s bird report is this: while migration may be over in landlocked places, the fun never stops here on the Cape and Islands. So enjoy the never ending parade of birds this June, just as you’re enjoying these last weeks of free parking before the never ending parade of tourists.