A Tufted Duck has been frequenting the boat launch in Pawtucket (example checklist by Justin Lawson) for the past couple of weeks. Not a typical male, there has been much confusion about the sex of this bird, with it being called a female or a 1st year male and others. Up until this weekend, when I was able to study the bird in person and saw really fine photos by Michelle St. Saveur, I had been calling it a basic plumage male, as the bird does almost match Sibley’s depiction of a non-breeding male, most importantly lacking white on the face in most viewing situations. My frustration was that I felt that I did not have an authoritative reference. Sibley’s is a North American guide, with a limited depiction of age and sex combinations and no text description of appearance. Google image searches turned up almost no well-described non-male photos.
Copyright Michelle Ste. Saveur.
This weekend, I was able to study the bird with Yale’s Jake Musser and a copy of Madge’s Waterfowl: An Identification Guide to the Ducks, Geese, and Swans of the World. In person, and in Michelle St. Saveur’s stunning photos (seen above), it was easy to note a small amount of white feathers on the face. More interestingly, in person, with the bird being active, Jake and I were able to see a significant amount of white undertail covert feathers (almost to the point that I would call it a patch or a block of white). Combined with coarse pale barring on brown flanks, the white undertail coverts and white face feathering help identify the sex and age of this individual. In the Waterfowl plates, the white undertail coverts are a variant of the female only and the timing of molt described in Waterfowl matches the current state of the white face feathing and the amount of pale barring on the flanks, placing this individual as a transitional juvenile female. By mid-spring the bird should have completed transition to adult female plumage, adding more white feathers to the face and evening out the pale barring on the flanks.
Stiff southwest winds, fog, and a generally turbulent migration environment are keeping birds on the ground for the most part. Some birds are pushing through, but it’s keeping the movement light and slow. Interesting weather is on the way, however, with a front coming through by the weekend and some rain in the area.
Followers of my tweets will have noticed that four days ago I predicted the arrival of at least one south or western flycatcher to region. The most astute of my followers will have noticed that I was correct, when Jake Musser found a Western Kingbird in Connecticut over the weekend. Winds are such tonight that a similar event could happen in the next couple days. However,during mid-week the detectability is probably lower, because not as many people are birding. But keep your eyes peeled for birds on wires!
Beefy northwest winds are hustling migrants south, out over the lower extremities of New England, out over the Northwestern Atlantic Ocean. All the radar stations are glowing like nuclear, blue-green jelly donuts. Eight of September and the songbirds are sailing south.
For most of the evening, northish winds will continue to usher our feather friends southwards and sometimes over the ocean a bit too far. If they hold (by 6am they are forecast to be a bit lighter), south and southeast facing coastal locations may see some birds scrambling for shore at dawn. If I can muster and motivate, I’m hoping to check the scene at Camp Cronin in the morn.
Sprinkles and low clouds have migration on shutdown tonight. Fortunately, that means few birds should be leaving, but it should prevent the arrival of others. Behind the front, winds are conducive, but I’m not seeing a lot of migrants riding that flow from Canada and entering the New England airspace. Basically, birds aren’t stacking up behind the front of rain that’s moving through the region right now.
Tomorrow morning is supposed to start with sprinkles, which could ground shorebirds that decided to push on anyway. Shorebird season is starting to wane a little, but there are still some shorebird gems out there to be found.
Birds moving! Lots of activity. A moderately stiff upper level due north wind is giving the birds a killer tail wind. Expect a significant amount of turnover tomorrow, leaning on the departure side of things, as the movements out of northern stations like Burlington look a little light than the intense push through the Albany and Long Island stations.
There are confounding weather conditions, BUT south facing coastal locations should be on the lookout tomorrow morning. Sometimes when there are strong north winds (they are forecast to temper in the next nine hours), birds get pushed too far out over the ocean during the night, struggle to make land, and collapse into coastal migrant traps, hungry, tired, and easy to observe. Camp Cronin in Rhode Island would be a good example, as would Gooseberry Neck in Massachusetts.
A big front is pushing through and grounding birds ahead of it already. Migration was light across New England to begin with, due to fog and scattered rain, so the concentrations that might occur as a result of this frontal movement will probably not be particularly large. Behind the front, movement is stronger, because the flight conditions are more conducive, Tomorrow morning could be an interesting picture on the ground for landbirds and shorebirds alike, although the rain will have cleared out, so shorebirds will probably not be stuck on the ground if they don’t want to be. Foggy coastal locations may see above average landbird activity.
It’s still a little early in the evening, but birds are up and I’m soon to bed. There’s a lot of turbulent weather in southern New England, along with some strong southwest winds aloft and I think that’s shutting off the flow from Maine and parts north.
There are some birds on the move and with rain in the region, there’s certainly a good chance for localized concentration of migrants, especially shorebirds, at this time of year. Personally, I’m going to work some shorebird spots early, hoping for not too heavy rain.
I may have said that I was going to start posting migration forecasts on August 15th, but I apparently didn’t mention anything about keeping up with it. The past dozen or so nights have proved challenging for focusing on anything after 9pm. Unlike this spring, my now seven-month-old daughter is more demanding and actually sleeping less. Also, I’ve left my computer in her room a number of nights and there is no going in there once she’s asleep. Bear with me as I make what attempts I can to provide insight into this season’s migration. Knowing that things really start heating up in September, I’m going to make a renewed effort to stay on top of my posts.
So, what happened last night? Birds were on the move. Warblers are starting to crank up, along with the other expected passerines at this time of year, including flycatchers and vireos. I had a Warbling Vireo in my backyard (yard bird #93) the night before last, which was certainly a migrant. Light winds last night gave birds the chance to orient to stopover sites without any difficulty, again favoring coastal locations. The signal was strongest out of Portland, ME last night and the velocity revealed a NE to SW directional flow. Both observations are in line with expectations for this time of year, as the birds of Maritime Canada push south into New England.
There is interesting weather in store for this weekend, with a really crisp front, pushing to the SE from the Upper Great Lakes right now, that could bring some interesting birds with it. Intermittent rains always bring the potential of localized migrant concentrations. At the same time, the pattern of winds over the eastern central US includes a pattern from the SW that could potentially bring reverse migrants.
Luck would have it that the Taunton NEXRAD station is out on the inaugural post of the season. Neighboring stations will give us some idea of what’s going on. Most interesting is that if you look at the velocity (below) from either New York or New Jersey, there’s not as much migration going on as is visible through the reflectivity (above). Close to the station, at low altitudes, birds are just getting up and moving from NE to SW along Long Island. However out in the 2000-3000m altitude, there is backscatter that is following the flow of winds tonight, SW to NE. Either some species is working on a molt migration or that’s a non-bird signal. I’m guessing non-bird.
It’s early in the seasonal. The small, post-frontal trickle we’re seeing is probably a lot of Yellow Warblers and other early season migrants, like Empids. With stronger reflectivity along the coast than inland (even considering the non-bird backscatter tonight), it’s likely that shorebirds are a big part of the signal tonight, which is seasonally appropriate. Light winds in the evening following a cold front create slow, but steady conditions, for southbound shorebirds, so keep an eye on those shorebird spots in the days ahead. The inland species like Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Baird’s Sandpiper, Upland Sandpiper, and American Golden-Plover will be making their touchdowns across the region shortly (if they haven’t already).
A little housekeeping has been going on, to get ready for August 15th, when I’m going to delve into migration prediction for the fall season. BirdCast has already started pumping out weekly forecasts. I’m going to wait a little longer, until land birds start making some moves. In southern New England, for the moment, it’s still mostly shorebirds. Here at my blog, the WordPress platform is updated and I’ve deployed a new theme that is fully functional and minimalist. I’m almost ready.
I really enjoy running this blog, as I feel much more connected with the general birding public than in any other way, so please keep comments and thoughts coming. Ground truths are always appreciated. If there are areas or topics my readers would enjoy seeing me give more attention to, please let me know. There are a handful of things I’d like to focus on this fall, including teasing apart NEXRAD velocities, to better understand the directions birds move at different altitudes, and, maybe, some comparisons with quantitative NEXRAD values (via w2birddensity, which I need to learn how to us). I also have always had a notion to do some monitoring of noctural migration with a microphone, but I haven’t been particularly successful at my apartment, yet.