Early Birds and Spring Overshoots

Apr 24, 2019

 

Indigo Bunting
Credit 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. 

 


My first of spring was calling in East Harwich on the 17th, which seems to be the date most of them arrived – towhees have a tendency to go from almost totally absent to common and widespread literally overnight. And though I’m still waiting for my first hummingbird, others have been seeing them in southeastern Mass since the 16th, but just a handful. Expect them to slowly increase over the next few weeks.

A lot of species have turned up well ahead of their expected arrival dates thanks to these winds, including the always crowd pleasing Indigo Bunting. Several folks have breathlessly reported these electric blue dazzlers turning up in yards and on decks over the last several days. A good look at a male Indigo Bunting in spring is a life-affirming, borderline spiritual experience. Things can’t be that bad if these creatures exist, can they? 

Other early arrivers noted in the region include Scarlet Tanager, various warblers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.

Another category of migrants you should be looking for during sustained southerly winds is the “spring overshoots” – southern breeders that get up too much migratory momentum and fly well north of their breeding range. Such birds noted in the last week include Prothonotary Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, and Summer Tanager - all beautiful, all southern, all rare.

All of this leads me to the craziest bird to ride those southern winds into Massachusetts – a Black-whiskered Vireo seen and photographed on Martha’s Vineyard by Ken Magnuson on Sunday. Sound the celebratory birding bells, because amazingly, this represents the first ever record for Massachusetts, and only the second record north of Virginia. As I’ve said before, it’s exceedingly hard to see a bird no one has ever seen in Massachusetts thanks to our long and thorough history of documenting ornithological records, so congrats to Ken.

This songbird of Caribbean forests is a summer resident of coastal mangrove swamps in south Florida. That’s right, only in summer, meaning they migrate out of South Florida for the winter. This means either they’re really wimpy about cool weather, or they don’t care for retirees. Either way, the Black-whiskered Vireo is not a bird we should have expected to see around here. Especially when you factor in the cryptic plumage, which closely resembles our Red-eyed Vireo, a common and expected migrant and breeding bird here. The black “whiskers” that differentiate the two species are technically lateral throat stripes if you’re a stickler for ornithological terminology, and they’re subtle, to be sure. Luckily Ken captured some great and definitive photos that you can see on the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Alert Facebook Page.

 

Those winds blew for several days, and we’re still finding southern overshoots as of this writing, like the Yellow-throated Warbler just discovered at Wellfleet Bay sanctuary. So I’ll leave you with my usual exhortation to get out there and birds your favorite hotspots, because the next person to sound the celebratory birding bells of a first state record could be you.