Birds and Hurricanes, Part II

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.


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Birds and hurricanes

We have had some excellent days banding this week, finally breaking into the 3 digits with 119 birds banded of 20 species on the 4th. It was a nice movement of assorted warblers with some thrushes mixed in, and the season’s first gray catbird. Birds were still moving through in decent numbers on the 5th, when we closed early and then broke down the site in preparation for major hurricane Matthew who is forecast to sideswipe most of the eastern Florida coast over the next couple of days. We will just ignore for now the model runs that show Matthew going in a big circle around past the Bahamas and coming to get us again next week.


Yesterday we were able to catch  a long desired-for bird; a Bobolink! They fly over us by the hundreds every year, but they like open areas so we have never netted one. I suspect the reason we caught one yesterday has to do with the Peregrine falcons moving through right now. The bobolink probably dove to escape a raptor and ended up in one of our nets set in a relatively more open location.


This bird is a young female. Amazing to think she will use these wings to fly as far as Argentina and back this winter and spring!


Philadelphia vireos were seen over the nets this week but none were captured. Noah Frade, one of our volunteers, took this incredible photograph of one dropping off its branch to snap up an insect.


This year will likely be divided into pre-and post Matthew periods, although it is possible that the net locations will not need to be changed as dramatically as when Hurricane Wilma rearranged the study site in 2005. We shall see, but things look relatively good for Miami-Dade County at this time (230PM) as Matthew passes our latitude around 100 miles offshore. Interesting double eyewall on radar right now; don’t see that every day. Hard not to weather-geek out on this storm but really hoping for the best for everybody on the coast north of here.

 Pre-Matthew totals: 1422 birds of 42 species

  1. Ovenbird: 307
  2. American redstart: 220
  3. Worm-eating warbler: 160
  4. Black-throated blue warbler: 140
  5. Black & white warbler: 119
  6. Northern waterthrush: 91
  7. Common yellowthroat: 66
  8. Swainson’s thrush: 50
  9. Blue-gray gnatcatcher: 44
  10. Swainson’s warbler: 37
  11. Prairie warbler: 29
  12. Red-eyed vireo: 27
  13. Northern parula: 18
  14. Gray-cheeked thrush: 11
  15. Northern cardinal: 11
  16. Common grackle: 10
  17. Veery: 9
  18. White-eyed vireo: 8
  19. Alder flycatcher: 7
  20. Great crested flycatcher: 5
  21. Western palm warbler: 5
  22. Traill’s flycatcher: 4
  23. Hooded warbler: 4
  24. Painted bunting: 4
  25. Magnolia warbler: 3
  26. Cape May warbler: 3
  27. Yellow-throated warbler: 3
  28. Prothonotary warbler: 3
  29. Louisiana waterthrush: 3
  30. White-crowned pigeon: 2
  31. Yellow-billed cuckoo: 2
  32. Yellow-throated vireo: 2

And singles of the following species:

Common ground-dove, Mangrove cuckoo, Chuck-will’s widow, Red-bellied woodpecker, Acadian flycatcher, Blue jay, Black-whiskered vireo, gray-cheeked/Bicknell’s thrush, Gray catbird, Blue-winged warbler, Yellow warbler, Chestnut-sided warbler, Bay-breasted warbler, Kentucky warbler and Bobolink.

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Thrushes on the Move

We had an interesting first day of October. The weather pattern has been stagnant as a cold front that was originally supposed to make it at least to central Florida hung up over Georgia and Alabama. We could see the birds piled up behind it on the NWS Doppler radar, and most of those birds launched out across the Gulf of Mexico. They did not have strong tailwinds, but they also didn’t have strong headwinds and time is passing so they need to get going. We had a series of slow banding days to end September with, but it was not a bad month overall. dailytotals_sept_2016


Left: Veery   Right: Swainson’s thrush

Thunderstorms blossomed up last night in the Florida Keys and drifted northward, intercepting some southbound migrants over Cape Florida. The rain ended soon after sunrise, so we were excited with what the day might bring. The overall volume was not huge, with 46 new captures, but the proportions were interesting. Clearly, the longer-winged strong fliers had gotten out ahead of the mass of migrants finally reaching central Florida and the rain had put a few of them down on our site. We banded a season’s worth of Catharus thrush in one day and also captured a first-of-season Bay-breasted warbler, as well as a very late Louisiana waterthrush.  Seen onsite were Tennesee warblers, many more  Red-eyed vireos than were captured, and a Philadelphia vireo. The waterthrush, it turns out, had a healed broken leg so we wonder if recovering from this injury caused the delay in migration. Most Louisiana waterthrush pass through our area in July! The bird was in good enough condition to continue its journey.

Total: 46 new of 14 species

  1. Swainson’s thrush : 22
  2. Gray-cheeked thrush: 6
  3. Veery: 3
  4. American redstart: 3
  5. Red-eyed vireo: 2
  6. Common yellowthroat: 2
  7. Great crested flycatcher: 1
  8. White-eyed vireo: 1
  9. Northern parula: 1
  10. Black-throated blue warbler: 1
  11. Bay-breasted warbler: 1
  12. Swainson’s warbler; 1
  13. Ovenbird: 1
  14. Lousiana waterthrush: 1

We are watching major Hurricane Matthew with much interest as we do not know how close his passage to our location will be. The most likely solution at this time is he stays out to sea east of the Florida peninsula, but whether he will be close enough to affect our weather remains to be seen.

Overall totals: 1169 birds of 38 species

  1. Ovenbird: 259
  2. American redstart: 191
  3. Worm-eating warbler: 152
  4. Black-and-white warbler: 102
  5. Northern waterthrush: 84
  6. Black-throated blue warbler: 75
  7. Common yellowthroat: 50
  8. Blue-gray gnatcatcher: 43
  9. Swainson’s thrush: 33
  10. Swainson’s warbler: 30


Yadda yadda yadda…..

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Past The 1000 mark




We banded our 1000th bird over the weekend, a Common yellowthroat, shown here with the Sunday crew. We hit this mark a little bit earlier than usual due to steady days of banding activity. Daily captures have been generally ranging between the mid teens and 60something, with 77 birds banded on Sept 22 due to overnight rain over the Atlantic coming up and intercepting south-bound migrants near Cape Florida. There seems to be a steady stream of migrants moving through the area overnight and the amount we capture each day seems related to the position and intensity of nocturnal convection over the Gulf Stream. A front is finally forecast to come down Florida this week, but so far it appears that the front will not make it as far south as here, so we continue with the hot humid days for the forseeable future. Still, it could launch a large flight of birds in our direction that then keep going past it, unless there is heavy rain along the boundary.


New species are in the neighborhood with the pre-dawn skies filled with Swainson’s thrush calls and the nets continue to fill up with Ovenbirds. This particular one was originally banded here in 2012 and is returning for at least a fourth winter. Many Ovenbirds overwinter in the woods at Cape Florida.

Here are some more photo highlights of recent days: an adult male Chestnut-sided warbler in fall plumage from Saturday….


….and a Yellow-throated warbler, also banded Saturday.

YTWA 2 092416_MA.JPG

Top 10 as of Sept 26:

1050 total captures of 35 species

  1. Ovenbird -247
  2. American redstart -180
  3. Worm-eating warbler -152 (previous high 142 in 2014)
  4. Black & white warbler -99
  5. Northern waterthrush -80
  6. Black-throated blue warbler -60
  7. Blue-gray gnatcatcher -42
  8. Common yellowthroat -39
  9. Swainson’s warbler -28
  10. Prairie warbler -27
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Local Specialties

We have caught 629 birds of 30 species as of Sept 15. Migration slowed down through our region in the last week, but a large new wave of birds was making its way down the state and had arrived at the latitude of Melbourne and Cape Canaveral by sunrise this morning. We are hoping these birds will be over Miami tomorrow morning and that some will stop by the hammock at Cape Florida, although there is little chance of overnight rain showers to encourage more to land. The second half of September is normally when migration really gets rolling, and the diversity of captures increases. Our first thrush, a Veery, also arrived today.


We have banded two of our local specialties this season. It is very unusual to catch Black-whiskered vireos in the fall at our location (springtime is a different matter) but a male was still singing around the netting area when we opened up in August. We eventually caught him on the 3rd of September. They are very similar to the Red-eyed vireo, but with a longer bill, browner overall plumage and, of course, the black whisker.


Yesterday we banded our second ever Mangrove cuckoo, with the first banded just last year. This species seems to be increasing at the park in the last several years, possibly as the trees planted since Hurricane Andrew (1992) have grown and matured. This bird was a hatching-year in heavy molt and was not in migratory condition yet, indicating that he is local.

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Worm-eating warbler days


We always seem to post photos of birds like this, an adult female Kentucky warbler, because they are unusual and get everybody’s attention. However, the last few days have looked more like this:


Worm-eating warblers and Black & white warblers have been moving through in good numbers; in fact Worm-eating is our number one capture for the season right now as we close in on 500 birds banded so far. They are early migrants and their numbers will be exceeded by Ovenbirds , Black-throated blue warblers and American redstarts as the season wears on. Worm-eating warblers have a unique head pattern among North American wood warblers and are specialists at picking insects out of dead rolled-up leaves.

Here are totals for yesterday and today:

Sept 6/7
TOTALS: 60/67
Worm-eating warbler: 21/20
Black & white warbler: 10/19
Ovenbird: 11/11
American redstart: 9/5
Northern waterthrush: 4/2
Black-throated blue warbler: 2/2
Swainson’s warbler: 0/3
Prairie warbler: 1/0
Yellow-throated vireo: 1/0
Yellow-throated warbler: 1/0
Common yellowthroat: 0/1
Kentucky warbler: 0/1
Northern cardinal: 0/1
Northern parula: 0/1
Traill’s flycatcher: 0/1


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A great start to the season!

We banded this American redstart today that may be a gynandromorph; a bird with both male and female characteristics. This condition can be caused by a bird possessing both testes and ovaries. We have captured several Black-throated blue warblers with this plumage aberration over the years, but this is the first redstart we have seen. The bird looks largely like an adult male, but has a grayer wash to the head, some green and orange in the back, and the flight feathers are brownish rather than black.

Abundant nighttime rainfall was largely responsible for the respectable 225 birds banded in late August. The popcorn Gulf Stream thunderstorms usually died down shortly after sunrise so we were able to run the nets, although some days were soggier than others. Nothing unusual was moving through the area, but it will be interesting to see if circulation around the backside of TS Hermine brings us a larger pulse of migrants later this week. Early-season migrants generally seem to move down in a steady, light stream and are less front-driven, probably because fronts rarely make it this far south in August. The flow of migrants will keep building up throughout September and peak in early to mid-October.


August Total: 225 birds of 17 species

American redstart: 49

Worm-eating warbler: 33

Ovenbird: 30

Black-and-white warbler: 27

Blue-gray gnatcatcher: 24

Northern waterthrush: 23

Prairie warbler: 10

Common grackle: 8

Northern cardinal: 6

Black-throated blue warbler: 4

Swainson’s warbler; 3

Yellow-billed cuckoo: 2

Northern parula: 2

Alder flycatcher: 1

Great crested flycatcher: 1

Red-eyed vireo: 1

Prothonotary warbler: 1

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