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.

Mark Faherty

 

I hate to bug you, but it’s that time of year when I turn my attention to some of our less appreciated winged neighbors. As with birds, this group includes beautifully colored, long-distance migrants and hard to identify little brown jobs that live their whole life in your neighborhood. Some are rare, others ubiquitous. All are interesting in their own way when you get to know them. These are the butterflies, and other bugs, of the Cape and Islands.

champagne for monkeys / flickr / bit.ly/2XA2jAo

 

Is there a bird in Massachusetts so obscure that even the bird guy hasn’t heard of it? No – don’t be ridiculous. But there is a species that nests on the Cape and Islands that is so rare, so poorly understood, and so mysterious in its habits that even ornithologists don’t know what their status is. And a tantalizing recent sighting, or, more correctly, “hearing” of this species has me wondering whether there may be more around than we realize.

Scott Heron / bit.ly/2YCscwd

 

You’re probably aware of the Endangered Species Act, that landmark piece of federal environmental legislation signed into law by that hippy environmentalist Richard Nixon back in 1973. It’s helped bring back species like the Bald Eagle, Whooping Crane, and Peregrine Falcon, not to mention that punching bag of the local press corps, the Piping Plover. 

Mark Faherty

 

Just offshore of Chatham there lies a seasonal village you may not be aware of. The residents arrive promptly and noisily each May, then leave for their winter homes again around October. During their stay, they create chaos, noise, and traffic - well, air traffic at least – in pursuit of beach space and local seafood. And summer wouldn’t be the same without them. Surprise! I’m actually talking about birds. What are the odds?

Andrew Weitzel / flickr / bit.ly/2WPi8Oz

 

In the past I’ve been known to refer to June as the birding doldrums. In a way, it is – the flashy, globe-trotting migrant songbirds and shorebirds have passed us by, and we’re a month away from seeing the first southbound shorebirds and peak numbers of offshore seabirds. But to call it the doldrums is a slap in the face to our local breeding birds. 

Mark Faherty

 

On a recent spring night, I was hustled through security at the gate of Camp Edwards, where I soon found myself embedded with an elite tactical squad. Armed with specialized gear and satellite-based technology unavailable just a few years ago, the team and I stalked through the moonlit woodlands. Our targets didn’t stand a chance. Yes, those Whip-poor-wills never saw us coming.

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.

Jaime Robles M. / flickr / bit.ly/2QDPIpr

 

You may have noticed that we had a pretty good weather weekend. Warm air in late-May brings two things – hope to weary, cold Cape Codders, and Mississippi Kites. And also tourists – so make that three things. Of those things, I thought I’d focus on the kites. Each year at this time, Mass Audubon’s hawk watch at Pilgrim Heights in Truro, manned by stalwart hawk guy Don Manchester, corners the market on sightings of these rare hawks. But with several sightings sprinkled around the region, this year may be different.

pradeepkumar.devadoss / flickr / bit.ly/2HuOHgb

 

On Sunday, a birding group from Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay was sorting through migrant shorebirds on Morris Island in Chatham. The usual suspects were in place – Semipalmated Sandpipers newly arrived from Brazil; Dunlins, Sanderlings, and Ruddy Turnstones all in their breeding finery, plus shrieking Willets defending their nearby nests.

Mark Faherty

 

The madness of another Mass Audubon Bird-a-thon has come and gone, and those of us who participated have mostly lived to tell the tale. Bird-a-thon is a 24-hour, bleary-eyed birding blitz held each May to raise money for the conservation and environmental education work we do at Mass Audubon. I of course organize the team for my sanctuary, Wellfleet Bay, in an effort to see more birds than any other sanctuary. I have come as close as second place, though in recent years have had my clock cleaned by juggernaut mainland sanctuaries like Drumlin Farm or Moose Hill.

Photo Courtesy Kevin Friel

 

If there was a perfect physical embodiment of our slow developing spring, it’s the seriously tardy Snowy Owl that’s been hanging around Falmouth this last week. A veritable Old Man Winter of a bird, this apparent male has been glowering down at people from rooftops near Little Pond. 

Dan Pancamo / flickr / bit.ly/2UU1W2c

 

Nearly a week of southerly winds has set the stage for migrants of all sorts to drop into the region, including a real jaw dropping species we’ll get to in a bit. This also includes those species we expect to arrive in mid-April, like Eastern Towhees. 

Michael Janke / flickr / bit.ly/2ICvom6

 

For those who know how to look, spring is arriving rapidly on the tired wings of migrating birds. Mid-April is an inflection point in the migration curve – the pace will only quicken from here on out. I suggest that you take this time to go out and refresh your identification skills on the smaller set of early songbird migrants, because in terms of the number of species coming through, things will be out of hand in a few short weeks.

Mark Faherty

 

I’m now several weeks removed from leading a birding safari to Tanzania, and now that I’m back here in reality-ville, it feels a world away. While I was gone, the first of the early migrants snuck in, like Common Grackles. Upon seeing some as I drove through Orleans shortly after returning, I said to myself – hey, Rüppell's Starlings. This was of course not correct - I left that grackle-like species back in the Serengeti. It took some time to adjust to the more pedestrian birds and mammals of home – as you know if you’ve been, even the starlings are spectacular in East Africa.

shell game / flickr / bit.ly/2YM4i1p

 

When it comes to the Cape and Islands “birdscape”, which is the word I just made up for the collective avian sights and sounds at any given time, a lot has changed in the last month, and the influx of new birds will only accelerate from here on out. I can’t do much for you in terms of a visual identification review, this being radio and all, but with new birds arriving every week, I think it’s time for a spring bird sounds “tune up”, if you will.

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