A couple of weeks ago as we were, let’s say “going to press”, a stranding event of a feathered kind was just getting underway. Tiny Arctic seabirds known as Dovekies were turning up in parking lots and roadways in Orleans and Brewster. The strandings followed a historic flight of Dovekies on Cape Ann and Cape Cod, respectively.
That Sunday, five thousand passed Andrews Point in Rockport, up on that rockier auxiliary Cape. Strangely, almost none were seen on Cape Cod that day during the Cape Cod Christmas Bird Count. However, Monday morning brought a flight of more than five thousand of the little birds past First Encounter Beach in Eastham, a classic spot to see storm-blown seabirds. This was likely the second largest flight ever recorded in Massachusetts and certainly the largest since 1969.
Of the six Dovekies lucky enough to end up at Wild Care in Orleans, only two survived, but the good news is they’re now back at sea. Thanks to staff from the Center for Coastal Studies they were released on Stellwagen Bank, and they even found some other Dovekies for them. An offshore release gives them the best chance at survival by reducing the risk of predation by gulls.
Having missed a week due to that freight train of a cold that’s going around, I’m way behind in my Christmas Bird Count updates, so let’s catch up. The Stellwagen Christmas Bird Count is a bit of a novelty in that it takes place entirely at sea - it’s part of the Stellwagen sanctuary seabird monitoring program, in which a ship follows a series of transects snaking through the waters over the bank. This year’s count was held on the 20th, and produced some highly prized species in the form of two Atlantic puffins and 109 common murres, all relatively difficult or damn-near impossible to see from shore most of the time. They also had 13 Dovekies, which, who knows? - maybe even including the released birds from Wild Care.
An epic Nantucket Christmas count on Sunday showed why so many folks hop the ferry at this busy time of year to make a birding weekend out of it. The 134 species tallied by the several teams on count day will be top-two in the region and probably the state. As usual, a who’s-who of late-lingering landbirds led the list of highlights, including a White-eyed Vireo, an Ovenbird, a Northern Waterthrush, a Nashville Warbler, and an incredibly rare-for-winter Yellow Warbler. A Piping Plover found on count day represents one of just a handful of winter records north of Long Island.
Sunday the 23rd brought the Mid-Cape Cod Christmas Bird Count, which covered towns from Sandwich to Dennis. Nearly ideal owling conditions produced an amazing six species of owls, including Barred, the always elusive Long-eared, Short-eared, and more than 20 Northern Saw-whet Owls. This count, with its bay and sound shorelines, productive freshwater ponds, big barrier beaches, even bigger saltmarshes, and abundance of songbird-rich swampy suburban thickets often vies for top honors in the most species competition, and with 138 species on count day, they are currently tops in the region. Only the Martha’s Vineyard count on the 5th could conceivably unseat them at this point – my humble Truro count is coming up on Wednesday, but we don’t have the land area or habitat diversity to hang with the big boys.
But that won’t stop us from birding our butts off on count day – tune in next week for the highlights.