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Science & Environment

Falcon Migration a Highlight of Early October Birding

Kenneth Cole Schneider / flickr

This time of year is so good for birding that it is hard not to get “spoiled.” There are mornings when the sky is roiling with migrant birds and it creates a sort of birding frenzy, with the observer just wanting to see more and more. This past week, with the weather being just OK, most days with more easterly wind direction than one hopes for, was really good for birding. Several mornings, seemingly inexplicably to the human observer and weather watcher, there were large numbers of migrant landbirds on the Cape and Islands. At this time of year it pays to get out in the field as often as possible, because you never know for sure what happened the night before until you go check it out.

One of the many highlights of October, especially as we approach Columbus Day Weekend, is the passage through the Cape and Islands of falcons - lots of falcons. Falcons are amazing flyers and feed almost exclusively on birds that they catch in flight. Built for speed, they favor shorelines, headlands and areas with commanding views out over lots of open water. When they spy a potential prey item too far from cover they launch after them. The ensuing chase and remarkable aerial maneuvers that may occur over several miles make you realize how much we miss in the natural world on a daily basis.

This past week it was a daily treat to see Peregrine Falcon, Merlin and American Kestrel, the 3 falcon species that regularly occur here and pass by in migration. Late afternoon on October 6th at one location on Nantucket were 4 Merlins chasing and dive-bombing each other and anything else in the area, 3 Peregrine Falcons, one which was drying off after a bath while another bathed vigorously while another kept a watchful eye from a short distance away on the beach and a lone male American Kestrel that was being tormented by various Merlins. This was a fabulous late afternoon falcon show that just does not occur at any other time of year.

This upcoming weekend may be the best weekend of the year for birding the region. For the past couple of decades it seems more birds occur and more rare birds are found over this long weekend than any other. Plus the fall migration on the Cape and Islands is far more impressive in terms of numbers of birds and variety of species than what occurs here in the spring that it is like comparing oranges and watermelons. They are very different and the fall is much more compelling.

Waterfowl are returning in droves and their numbers passing by increase daily. Migrating lines of scoters and eiders as well as returning puddle ducks and mergansers are filtering in with more arriving daily. The past few days saw the first White-throated, White-crowned and Swamp Sparrows of the fall as well as Dark-eyed Juncos and the appearance of both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Brown Creepers and Winter Wrens. The best news is that the upcoming couple weeks are arguably the best of the year for birding.