Birds

The parade of birds continues

The parade of birds continues

Happy first day of summer weather! It never really feels like summer here until the tourist explosion in early July, but it’s worth thinking about that last month in between when we locals can spend some time in the beach, like “summer”. June 1 also marks a symbolic transition in the world of birds, from the migration season to the intense breeding season. Some local birds have been breeding since March, or earlier, but now the last stragglers are back and everyone is getting to work making more birds. But is the migration really over?

The migration season ended on a high note, with out-of-reach rarities like a Wilson’s plover at Chatham, a Franklin’s gull at Race Point and huge sandhill cranes oddly plodding obediently across the grounds of school ball in Chatham and Mashpee. And the birds I seem to talk about every week now, the swallow-tailed kites and the Mississippi kite, keep showing up. These awesome aerialists won’t be sitting in a tree on the side of Rt 6 like a Red-tailed Hawk, they’ll be somewhere overhead. Perhaps no bird better exemplifies the motto of legendary Bird Report creator Vern Laux – if you want to see a kite, then ‘keep your eyes skyward’.

In reality, the migration is never “over” on the Cape and the islands – something always comes or goes, even in the relative doldrums of June birds. Stragglers among the songbirds will still arrive in the coming week or more, such as cuckoos and flycatchers of the painfully hard-to-identify genus Empidonax, such as willow, alder and Acadian flycatchers. Fortunately, these last three should sing, which gives us a chance to identify them. Listen to Willow Flycatchers at Fort Hill in Eastham – good luck finding the others.

And while most have passed, the stragglers and non-breeders among the Arctic-nesting shorebirds will still be around, some until they bump into their more ambitious breeding brethren already heading for the south in July. At this point, these loafers will probably look sheepish and mumble that they don’t have the “bandwidth” for migration and breeding this year, but they plan to return next year.

Offshore seabirds, some fleeing the southern winter, will migrate into the region throughout June. In fact, the first sooty shearwaters were reported over the weekend. These masters of the wind have just arrived from breeding islands at the other end of the hemisphere, mainly the Falklands. Under ideal conditions, they can travel over 1000 miles in a day, most without a beat. Fun fact – a massive 1961 “wreck” of thousands of sooty shearwaters that crashed through central California cities in fog inspired Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. If this bird factlet wins you any pub trivia, let me know.

Greater shearwaters will be following the soots closely, coming from islands in the middle of the South Atlantic, and Wilson’s petrels are already here a little earlier than usual. These lithe little seabirds come even further, having left the breeding islands of Antarctica not too long ago. Look for these charming little seabirds that patter along the surface with dangling legs during your next whale sighting. In addition to these expected regulars, expect a number of lost seabirds to show up at Race Point in Provincetown, such as lesser gulls and the occasional royal tern.

The main point of this week’s bird report is this: while the migration may be over in landlocked places, the fun never ends here in Cape Town and the islands. So take advantage of the endless parade of birds in June, just as you take advantage of these last weeks of free parking before the endless parade of tourists.

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