The winds on the west side of Hurricane Matthew were surprisingly weak, and it only gusted into the high 30’s at the site with little rain. The banding area was completely unharmed, so we reopened the day after the storm passed. We have had a steady stream of migrants with new species for the season since then, but no huge numbers on the ground because the weather is so nice that the birds are flying straight through! A weak front passed a few days ago and it lowered the humidity while providing great conditions for migration. Since then high pressure has set in north of us and we have had steady, fairly strong NE winds, which are bad for getting birds at our site. This time of year is usually our peak for numbers since it normally is our first real cold front of the season, and the Black-throated blue warblers and Gray catbirds are moving through. We are getting antsy for a new weather pattern!
We have been asked several times about what happened to the migrating birds during Hurricane Matthew. The following is speculation based on radar observations and the condition of captures at Cape Florida. Large numbers of migrants used the NW and N winds on the backside of the storm as a tailwind, beyond the worst of the wind and rain. These birds were nowhere near the center of the storm and had a quick ride south. Few of them bothered to land at Cape Florida. In the radar image below from the night of Oct 8-9, the yellow is Matthew raining himself out over North Carolina while the green blobs are millions of birds heading south in the night sky.
Of the birds we did catch, most were fat and healthy but a couple were in horrible condition with no fat and most of their pectoral muscle mass consumed. One Ovenbird was so weak that it died shortly after capture. I had not seen a bird so emaciated in years! The other hard cases were able to fly off and resume foraging, so they should be able to fatten up again because of the abundance of food at Cape Florida. It is hard not to think that these individuals had a bad run-in with Matthew somewhere along their route south, but the majority of birds avoided the worst weather and are continuing their migration in great shape. Below is our first Wood thrush of the season.