Mark Faherty | CAI

Mark Faherty

Mark Faherty writes the Weekly Bird Report.

Mark has been the Science Coordinator at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary since August 2007 and has led birding trips for Mass Audubon since 2002. While his current projects involve everything from oysters and horseshoe crabs to bats and butterflies, he has studied primarily bird ecology for the last 20 years, working on research projects in Kenya, Florida, Texas, California, Arizona, Mexico, and the Pacific Northwest. He was a counter for the famous River of Raptors hawk watch in Veracruz, Mexico, and has birded Africa, Panama, Belize, and both Eastern and Western Europe. Mark is an emcee and trip leader for multiple birding festivals and leads workshops on birding by ear, eBird, birding apps, and general bird identification. He is past president of the Cape Cod Bird Club and current member of the Massachusetts Avian Records Committee.

David Cook Wildlife Photography / CC BY-NC 2.0 /


On the morning of January 7, after a few days of moderate, mostly northerly winds, Sue Finnegan and Alex Burdo pulled into the parking lot at First Encounter Beach in Eastham to find some seabirds on the move. Watching from the car to avoid the biting cold, they soon realized that among the Razorbills and Dovekies were some pudgy, dusky-faced birds, some showing a flash of orange and yellow in their much larger bills – these were Atlantic Puffins, a prize find for seabird watchers. The occasional individual puffin passes our peninsula, mainly after a Nor’easter, and often there at First Encounter. But this was an unexpected, unexplained explosion of puffins – 61 in all, a new high count for Cape Cod.

Budnick Family

Some weeks I’m scraping the bottom of the birding barrel looking for “Bird Report” content. This is not one of those weeks. No, this past week brought the opposite problem, the one where a truly absurd number of noteworthy bird happenings coincide, leaving me wondering how to tie them all together. 

Rick Leche /

It’s finally over, and what a white-knuckle ride it’s been. While I could easily be talking about 2020, I actually mean that the last of the Christmas Bird Counts are finally in the books. That makes this a bittersweet time for some birders. In my case, there are some very warm, absurdly thick socks mostly reserved for these 12-hour blitzes that I am not likely to need again until next year’s counts.  So I get a bit misty as I lay them in the bottom of the drawer - the every-day Smartwools should suffice for normal, non-Christmas Count winter birding, henceforth.

Jacob McGinnis / CC BY-NC 2.0 /

For various reasons, this year’s Nantucket, Stellwagen Bank, and Mid-Cape Christmas Bird Counts all ended up scheduled on the same day, Sunday the 27th. This is unprecedented as far as I know - these counts share some of the same personnel, so normally the organizers coordinate on dates. But as we well know, nothing is normal in 2020. Luckily, thanks in part to a bumper crop of good, young birders coming on the scene in recent years, all the counts were well-staffed, and the birds, which do not count themselves, were counted early and often.

Mick Thompson / flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

When I say Christmas Bird Count to most people, I often wonder if they think I’m referring to the avian enumeration in that old song, you know, “four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves”, etc. Come to think of it, fully half of the gifts from that person’s true love are birds. I feel like I could have been a real Casanova in the 18th century. But I digress. What I really want to talk about is the actual Christmas Bird Counts, those all-out, all-day birding blowouts held each year from mid-December to early January. The first counts for the Cape and Islands are already in the book, and it’s time for the post-game analysis.

Waterfowl Roundup

Dec 16, 2020
Mark Faherty


If there’s one thing you can count on each December, it’s counting. It’s when we hold the counts during which we count all the birds we can count. I’m talking about last weekend’s annual Cape Cod Waterfowl count as well as the various Christmas Bird Counts that begin this weekend. At last count, there were at least nine such counts in the CAI listening area, ten if you count the boat-based Stellwagen Bank count. So you know there’s a count near you.

Mark Faherty

On Monday, some lucky homeowners in Wellfleet got to see a chickadee. They saw it well, photographed it, and got the word out to some other birders. Soon, a handful of the Cape’s most active birders had seen the chickadee. Phones were ringing. “Have you heard about the chickadee?”, the person on the other end would say. “There’s a chickadee in Wellfleet.” I am, of course, trolling you a little bit here. For this was not your usual chickadee. This was the rare and mysterious Boreal Chickadee, a species not seen on Cape since 1994, and one never seen on either of the islands.

Mark Faherty

On Thanksgiving morning, there was just one large, meaty bird on the minds of Cape Cod birders. I am of course referring to the rare Pink-footed Goose discovered that morning in Wellfleet. With just two prior records for the Cape and Islands, this was a bird to see. So it was that I loaded my son and all his toddlery accoutrements into the family car and headed to Wellfleet on Thanksgiving morning, leaving my poor wife behind with the baby, the parade on TV, and several side-dishes still to make.

Mark Faherty

You might have missed it, but the floodgates recently opened. The conditions must have set up just right, with east winds over the weekend, followed by very strong northwest winds through Tuesday morning. This brought big numbers of everyone’s favorite little winter seabird ever so briefly within reach of our binoculars. Thousands of Dovekies passed classic seabirding spots over the last few days, including over 1000 at Race Point and more than 4000 at First Encounter Beach in Eastham. Most birders are excited to see just one Dovekie, so this was hitting the jackpot.

Adam Searcy / / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Ancient one has returned; the prophecy has been fulfilled. Ok, maybe there wasn’t a prophecy, but the Ancient one has indeed returned. For the first time in over 20 years, a mysterious bird known as the Ancient Murrelet has appeared in Massachusetts. And this odd, singing sea bird from the North Pacific may have an interesting story to tell—one that involves climate change and international shipping route wars.

Samuel Zhang

I almost always keep these reports to birds on the Cape and Islands. But in this otherwise slow news week, a certain bird from a neighboring state is just way too good to ignore. One of the world’s most interesting birds has landed at a place called Snake Den Farm in Johnston Rhode Island – it’s the not-so-common-around-here Common Cuckoo, just the third ever seen in the lower 48 states. This may seem far afield for the Cape and Islands Bird report, but note that from Falmouth, this farm is closer than Provincetown. And most Cape birders I know have already been to see this cuckoo, while the rest are on their way.

Tim Harding

Though the weather is finally cooling down, the birding continues to heat up. The past few days have brought some nice additions to the winter finch irruption, new rarities, and new expected winter arrivals. At feeders and in the field, birds that weren’t here yesterday are still turning up all the time.

Mark Faherty

At this birdiest time of year, the savvy birdwatcher knows the most efficient places to maximize their birding time. Places where you are just as likely to find an interesting warbler or sparrow, a rare shorebird, or an offshore seabird. A darting falcon or a furtive rail. These are places of sand, surf, and salt marsh, but also potentially productive patches of trees, fruit-laden thickets, and pocket marshes with fresh water. In fall, the savvy birders head to the big barrier beaches.

A Blizzard of Siskins

Oct 14, 2020
Mark Faherty

It was a birdy week at the Faherty household. Which is good, because I rarely leave the household. But the birding is so good this time of year, sometimes you don’t have to. A slightly tardy Scarlet Tanager visited my birdbath several times over two days, as did several Blackpoll Warblers and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. A Peregrine Falcon streaking by with prey last week became yard species number 140, while a sneaky Cooper’s Hawk stalked my birds more than once. But one flock of small, streaky birds I saw descend from the sky on Sunday is what I’d like to talk about. Because, folks, we are in the midst of a blizzard of siskins.

Mark Faherty

It seems like I say this several times a year, but right now is the peak-est of the peak of the birding year here on the Cape and lslands. And I really mean it this time. 

Mark Faherty

We are a weather-obsessed people – talking about the weather, prognosticating about the weather, complaining about the weather - so I assume you have checked the forecast for the next few days. But have you checked the BirdCast? Yes, there is such a thing, and it’s provided by your friends at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, as part of their quest to meet all of your birding needs. They are sort of becoming the of birding, but I digress.


Winter's Coming

Sep 23, 2020
Mark Faherty

Just like that, summer on the Cape is over - astronomically, meteorologically, economically, and emotionally. In my weirdly cold part of East Harwich, I’ve already had overnight temps in the 40s, and these relentless north winds seem to be blowing away the remains of this strange season. At the same time, they seem to be blowing in some early and ominous harbingers of winter in feathered form.

Red Brook Drawdown

Sep 16, 2020
Courtesy Mike Tucker of Falmouth

If you’re into bird migration—and why wouldn’t you be?—September is an intense month. Almost every bird that migrates is on the move, from hawks to seabirds, warblers to woodpeckers. At the backyard level, we wonder when our hummingbirds will disappear for good and where our Orioles suddenly went. 

Skyler Kardell

As a Cape Codder, you’ve seen your share of Great Blue Herons. Birders and non-birders alike can appreciate these big, charismatic wading birds found year-round here on the archipelago. You might even think you know them pretty well. 

Wildreturn / / CC 2.0

For the birder set, late summer on the Cape and Islands is synonymous with an assortment of sought-after shorebirds and seabirds. This week was case-in-point, with the rarity parade including a continuing American Avocet at Seagull Beach in Yarmouth, a hyper-rare Common Ringed Plover in Truro, a Franklin’s Gull in Sandwich, and snazziest of all, a Pacific Golden-Plover picked out by unheralded good-birder Lee Dunn over on Nantucket, and representing just the 4th state record. 

Mark Faherty

Over the past week, a sudden influx of dizzying numbers of birds along with some big, colorful butterflies greatly enhanced the ambience of my neighborhood. The ebb and flow of bird activity at the scale of a yard or street is often puzzling, as mixed flocks come and go, leaving no clues when they suddenly disappear for a day or even weeks. 

Brad Winn/Manomet

A celebrity has returned to Wellfleet for their annual summer retreat. Tired after the long flight east, this luminary is relaxing on Lieutenant Island while dining on locally caught crabmeat. I am of course talking about a bird, and it’s Ahanu the Whimbrel. Ok, “celebrity” may be a strong word. But as the only satellite tagged Cape Cod Whimbrel to ever reveal the full annual migration from breeding grounds to wintering grounds and back, this bird is indeed a celebrity to a small handful of Manomet researchers and other bird fans, and has even been featured in a Boston Globe article, among other media appearances.

Peter R. Flood

Tropical Storm Isaias passed last Tuesday, delivering us a glancing blow on its way through western Massachusetts and New York. We saw big gusts, spotty outages, and not nearly enough rain. But for the astute and ambitious birder, the storm brought gifts as well, gifts hoovered up from Caribbean waters and deposited far from home - Sooty Terns made a series of appearances in the region, delighting some lucky birders who picked up a life bird normally requiring a trip to a remote tropical island.

Mark Faherty

In this time of tourists, the whale watch business is in full swing. Or at least half-swing - boat capacity is reduced and masks are required, but people are flocking to the boats, nonetheless. And with good reason – the Cape offers some of the world’s best whale watching, with our close proximity to the perennial whale feeding grounds of Stellwagen Bank. 

Mark Faherty

It’s nearly August, and shorebird migration is well underway. Small, delicate looking creatures that spent the month of June dodging Arctic foxes and Snowy Owls are now winging their way Cape-wards. Some may stay just a week or two before continuing on to the southern reaches of the hemisphere, perhaps as much as 10,000 miles from their breeding grounds. Shorebirds are such incredible migrators that species who fly almost 5000 miles one way to wintering grounds in the Caribbean Basin are classified as “short-distance migrants”.