Things have really been ramping up lately, and there’s been a lot of talk about when it will peak. Is it peaking now, will it peak in late April, or maybe May? And are we ready for it? I am of course talking about bird migration, which I assume everyone is as obsessed with as I am.
We just had some crazy strong south winds, something bird folks hope for in April because of what goodies they may bring in the forms of early migrants or rare southern vagrants. But even before those winds, some enterprising southern rarities had arrived ahead of the weather. The first of those was a Brown Pelican found flying to and fro off Lecount Hollow in Wellfleet on the 10th. One person even sent me a video of this eye-popping bird. This big guy was not seen again on Cape, but a Brown Pelican seen on Nantucket the next day was probably him. Once very rare, sightings of these big fish vacuums with wings have increased here in recent years.
On the 11th, Mass Audubon’s Jim Sweeney spied a graceful, scissor-shaped raptor playing hide and seek with him between the treetops in North Truro. This was a Swallow-tailed Kite, a truly breathtaking bird at close range. Big, striking, black and white hawks with four-foot long pointed wings and long forked tails, Swallow-tailed Kites are really a tropical bird if they’re being honest. They barely tolerate a few months of breeding in Florida and the Carolinas before quickly returning to Amazonian South America by August. Even populations as far south as Venezuela migrate further south for the winter, so these delicate doilies are obviously not much for the cool weather. Yet almost every year, one or two of these cold-averse hawks end up here, at a time when we may still see temps well below freezing a night.
A slim southern gentleman has also slipped into the area in recent days in the form of the Tricolored Heron. So far, there have been sightings of this handsome heron in Eastham and Yarmouth. Look for a particularly skinny heron sporting blues and reds plus a white ponytail of breeding plumes. Many towns on the Cape have never recorded a Tricolored Heron, so if you have the wherewithal to visit one, it’s not a species to be taken for granted. Both Great and Snowy Egrets are back, so look for them in their company.
Among the more pedestrian, but still exciting new arrivals this week, were the first reports of Indigo Buntings and Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, both just back from Central America, and Broad-winged Hawks, Purple Martins, Barn Swallows, and a Chimney Swift all just returned from deep in South America. Even the first scouts of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird brigade have been reported from the listening area in the last few days, so get those feeders cleaned and filled. It may not seem like it yet, but a veritable river of birds is flowing our way - these first few of mid-April are just the trickle that precedes the flood. So clean your binoculars, pull up your pant legs, and get ready to wade in.