Wings on the wind: The flight of a decade

“The flight of the lifetime!” came across my phone last night as I sat in a dark spot between the Cape May Convention Center and the adjacent building, gazed upwards, and marveled at 300 birds passing overhead…

…in a single minute. Whether it was really the flight of a lifetime or simply one of the best I’ll ever see, given the statement came from the mouth of Richard Crossly means it shouldn’t be taken lightly. When the who’s who of birding in Cape May is laid out on the boardwalk in the middle of the night, going “ooooh” and “ahhhhh” as if we were watching a firework display or an epic meteor shower, you can bet that this night will not soon be forgotten. This was a huge flight taking place at the best times of the year for migration in terms of sheer numbers, and the conditions were perfect. Here’s the radar from sunset last night through 5:00am this morning.

Frames are every 1/2 hour. Click on the thumbnail to view the full-sized animation.

Base Reflectivity image from Fort Dix Base Velocity image from Fort Dix Base Reflectivity image from Dover AFB Base Velocity image from Dover AFB Base Reflectivity image from Upton NY Base Velocity image from Upton NY Composite Base Reflectivity image from the Northeastern USA

WNW winds across the Northeast triggered an enormous flight over New Jersey last night. The magnitude was no doubt a function of almost a week of little-to-no migration over the region, plus the time of year when the migrant pool is made up of birds with great big populations (such as Yellow-rumped Warbler, American Robin, Chipping, White-throated and Swamp Sparrows, etc.). Even despite the moderate to strong winds, if you look at the radar velocities you’ll notice that on average targets are moving N->S. This indicates something else about the migrant pool: these are strong fliers. If this had been September, you would have seen much more activity along the coast and many more birds pushed offshore. Also apparent on the radar were the lack of birds leaving New York State. Despite the strong flier hypothesis, winds appear to have been too far west over the Great Lakes to trigger the same magnitude of migration as we saw over New Jersey. Some birds could be seen heading out of southern New York, but it paled in comparison to what was moving down the New England and New Jersey coastlines.

If the forecast holds we should see a shift to more northwest winds over New York today, which will lead to another night of heavy migration tonight and another big flight of birds into New Jersey from a separate migrant pool to our northwest. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves- now is the time to be thinking about birding in New Jersey. Head to the coast if you can, and remember that the winds will be strong today so consider out-of-the-wind locations for the best viewing. Cape May is THE logical destination given the funneling effect it has on southeast-bound migrants. Sandy Hook should be great today as well- but Cape May will be excellent, and some who know this place much better than I do are betting the farm on that statement. Something to note as well is the connection of our local weather to the unprecedented terrestrial low pressure system over the Hudson Bay, Canada. This low churning and sweeping the Arctic is drawing down both arctic winds and birds. Be on the lookout for some of the more expected species such as Juncos, White-throats and possibly a few Golden Eagles, but also keep a keen eye and ear out for anything a little more suspicious… I’ll let you decide what that might be!

If you’re here for the Autumn Weekend, I’ll be out and about on Saturday and Sunday so hope to see you in the field!

Good Birding,

David

ps. PLEASE stop back and let us know what you’re seeing in the field- this event has the potential to produce some amazing numbers and diversity, even for late fall.

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3 Responses to Wings on the wind: The flight of a decade

  1. julie mccall says:

    waaaaaah! but i took my sick day *yesterday*!!!!

    alas. have a great day! and thanks for all you do. 🙂

  2. Susan Treesh says:

    OK, I know Negri-Nepote is not a real migration hotspot, but after seeing woodcreeper, I did run off to check it before work this morning, and it was not real active. I think a longer time there might have paid dividends, but this inland grassland was not *obviously* dripping with birds this morning. Hope this helps with your “event assessment!”

  3. Bryce Butler says:

    After traveling in last night for the weekend, I was awakened a little after four by lots of bird flight calls. I thought no way. I got up and opened the door. Birds were everywhere, shooting just over the motel roof. A Swainson’s Thrush was flopping on the walk in front of my room suffering from a collision. I put it in a paper bag, dressed, coffeed and headed out to Higbee Beach. Driving through town was insane as the birds were streaming everywhere across the road. Driving Sunset was stop and go due to an even more intense stream. It was that way all the way to Higbee and then it was beyond description: the place was drowning in birds. I had planned a get away this weekend, I got an experience of a lifetime.