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.

Credit Natural England / bit.ly/2CYFETX / Creative Commons 2.0

I want you to envision a 17th century, agrarian version of yourself. Superstitions are rampant and it’s generally accepted that ghosts live among us. You’re entering an old abandoned barn on some spooky fall night, when suddenly a white, spectral figure with dead, black eyes slips noiselessly past you, right before you hear this.

Nancy Ransom

 

As we head into the last days of October, change is evident in the bird world. Our backyard catbirds are mostly gone, headed for Central American forests. New ducks are arriving by the day on both pond and bay. Behaviors are also changing, as our resident woodpeckers, titmice, and chickadees are loading their winter larders by stashing sunflower seeds and acorns in holes and crevices. 

Mick Thompson / flickr / bit.ly/2VPW2MT

After wearing out its welcome over several days, last week’s never-ending Nor’easter finally passed, leaving a handful of smiling birders in its wake. Why are they smiling? Are they storm-damage sadists who are really into coastal erosion? Maybe, but many birders welcome a good Nor’easter, or, as you weather nerds may call them, macro-scale extratropical cyclones. That’s because these storms often come bearing gifts. The initial strong northeast winds can load up Cape Cod Bay with all manner of offshore birds from the Gulf of Maine, many blown inshore against their will.

gman25 / bit.ly/2os5Hx0

 

This is a time of year when it can be hard to imagine that birds are declining. With flocks of sometimes thousands of Tree Swallows swarming the dunes of Sandy Neck in Barnstable or High Head in Truro, marauding bands of over a thousand grackles storming through wooded neighborhoods, and massive flocks of sea ducks forming off Monomoy like smoke on the water, it can seem like all is fine. But a viral new study estimates that, in fact, we have lost nearly a third of the individual birds on the continent since 1970. So how can we reconcile what we see with what we read?

Mark Faherty

In my ever humble opinion, October is the best month to witness bird migration on the Cape and islands. While migration has been revving its metaphorical engine since July, October is when it starts to peel out and leave skid marks. Warblers and shorebirds are still on the move, and are now joined more and more by sparrows, seabirds, and assorted other migrants arriving from all directions. So what is it about this month that brings all the birds?

Peter R. Flood / flickr / bit.ly/2mGDJfx

If you listen regularly, you know that I occasionally report on the so called Extreme Pelagic birding trips run by the vaunted Brookline Bird Club. Well, those wacky, ocean going birders were at it again this past weekend, when, on a quest for rare seabirds, they steamed out of Hyannis aboard the Helen H. 

Tom Benson / flickr / bit.ly/2mn04Pj

It’s a global world. You hear that a lot these days, and while this statement has all the keen insight of the equally inane modern cliché “it is what it is”, there is a certain amount of truth in it. And at no time is the natural world more “global” than during bird migration, especially on the Cape and Islands. You could spend an entire middle school geography course studying the countries of origin of the birds that pass through here. 

Mark Faherty

 

September is a great time to add plants to the yard to benefit wildlife. Last week I covered some trees, shrubs, and hummingbird plants to liven up your property, and I promised to cover perennials this week. 

Jason Means / flickr / bit.ly/2lx0fqK

 

September is a great time to think about adding some good native plants to your yard for the benefit of wildlife, like fruiting shrubs and trees as well as perennials that attract insects and birds alike. Based on what I've learned from my own yards over the years, from researching the literature, and from managing the pollinator garden at Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary, I’m here offering some of my top plant recommendations in the categories of landscape trees and shrubs for both birds and bees, and hummingbirds plants. 

The Migration South

Aug 28, 2019
Don McCullough / bit.ly/2Zu02Hj

 

In the midst of this fall weather preview, it feels more natural to be talking about southbound bird migration. While the migration is sometimes subtle, with local birds like Orchard Orioles, Yellow Warblers, and Purple Martins quietly slipping away in the dark of night, shorebird migration is more obvious. 

Scott Heron / bit.ly/2P7sPcx

 

Almost exactly a year ago, the bird report was about a rare stowaway on a boat off the Cape and Islands, a Brown Booby that hitched a ride on a boat heading into Mnemsha on Martha’s Vineyard. Last weekend I received a text message from naturalist and local radio personality Dennis Minsky letting me know that history had repeated itself, sort of, when a Brown Booby landed on a whale watch boat somewhere off of Provincetown. This bird, perhaps a young adult, spent a half hour sitting atop this boat packed to the gills with people, providing an extra treat for the bird-oriented folks aboard.

Jonathan Blithe / flickr / bit.ly/2L5cFOm

 

Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge includes a network of ever-shifting barrier beaches and islands dangling from the elbow of Cape Cod. Once home to a 19th-century fishing community complete with a school and, of course, a tavern, the island is now mostly designated as a federal wilderness area, so most of the eating and drinking is done by the wildlife these days. 

Mark Faherty

In this time of tourists, the whale watch business is in full swing. 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

 

Astronomically speaking, we are only a third of the way through summer. But once August arrives, the term “late summer” starts to creep into our speech, and, to the dismay of school kids everywhere, back to school ads appear in the papers.

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. 

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