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Checking my predictions

Scarlet Tanager
Mark Faherty
Scarlet Tanager

Before last week’s summer weather, I made lofty predictions about various early and southern overshoot migrants we might see around here with that warm southerly air flow. So how did I do? Eh. I wasn’t totally wrong, but the flood of early migrants did not quite materialize. April migration is often subtle, at best, and that was certainly true this week. However, some of what I predicted did come true, so let’s focus on the positive.

First, I suspected a Swallow-tailed Kite would show up, and indeed one was reported from Orleans on Saturday, plus another that was photographed up on the North Shore the same day. This mostly South American species nests in Florida, and each spring some overshoot the core breeding grounds by about 1000 miles – this extreme navigational whoopsie makes me feel better about how often I miss my exit when driving on rt 6. Looking up on any warm day right now is the best way to see one of these lost tropical hawks.

I also said we’d get our first Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and urged listeners to get their feeders out. As of press time, there are 8 unconfirmed reports of hummingbirds from our listening area, from Plymouth to Chilmark to Dennis. I’m declaring victory on that one, but this is sort of right on schedule for the first hummers, so it’s a hollow one. And yes, once again, it is time to get your feeders out.

I mentioned Indigo Buntings, who typically show up early when we get warm weather in April, but I only know of one or two, including a male photographed in Yarmouth and another in Orleans. Still, do keep an eye out in fields and at feeders, for what may be the loveliest of our spring songbirds. Unless you prefer red, in which case you’d likely vote for Scarlet Tanager, another bird I predicted to arrive early, and lucky for me, at least one did turn up. They occasionally visit oriole feeders and oranges in spring but are more likely to be foraging high in budding trees, and hopefully, singing.

Some of our loudest local residents slipped in over the last few days, right on schedule – the first few Whip-poor-wills and Willets, noisy birds of barrens and beaches, respectively, arrived over the weekend. On the quieter side, Broad-winged Hawks and at least one Green Heron made their first appearances, back from Central and South American swamps and cloud forests.

It’s always tempting to rush things, but the reality remains that we are two or three weeks away from the arrival of the majority of our favorite spring birds. For now, be present in this seasonal moment and enjoy what April migration has to offer, which includes sprightly, flitty little Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and two species of kinglets; handsome Chipping Sparrows pouring back into our suburban neighborhoods, and the beginning of spring shorebird migration on our beaches and flats. Since most of what I predicted did in fact come to pass, albeit just barely, I’m giving myself a B-. If you need more than my wild prognostications, it’s always worth taking a look at Cornell’s BirdCast, which is basically a weather report but for bird migration based on 23 years of bird movements detected by NEXRAD weather radar and local weather predictions, but I don’t think it does any better than I do. It’s best to forget the predictions and just go outside, because as with the weather around here, the most reliable source is often your own eyes and ears.

Mark Faherty writes the Weekly Bird Report.