We’re still waiting along with the birds for a change in the weather. There seems to be a front progressing through Texas right now and a tropical something-or-other brewing in the Caribbean so we’ll see if either comes our way. We are still banding Swainson’s warblers and an Ovenbird returned who was originally banded in 2013.
Migration has been stalled now for almost a week, and it appears this is the case across the entire Southeast Atlantic region. Today we caught 21 new and 20 recaptures; a ratio we rarely ever see. The recaptures added diversity and interest to the day, as well as contributing valuable data about the benefits of the park’s restored habitat to migratory birds that have to do an extended stopover. 21 birds of 10 species were banded today, but adding the recaptures brings the daily total to 41 birds of 14 species.
The star of the day was that Thick-billed vireo, who made a mistake and ended up in the net he has been hanging out nearby for a week or longer, given that one was seen in the same area back in September. This is the fourth capture of this common Bahamas resident at Cape Florida. The first Thick-billed was captured in 2005 not long after Hurricane Wilma, and we had a long wait for the second one in 2017. We captured the third in 2018 and now this one in 2020. One or more Thick-billed vireos have been seen in the park every year for awhile now, which raises the possibility of one or a few pairs occasionally breeding. Here is a gallery of our other banded Thick-bills:
(Oct 21) It rained at least 3 inches this morning by my house but the Wednesday crew persevered and was able to stay open for most of the morning. Birds seem to be hanging out waiting for the weather to clear so they can move on. We are supposed to get a break in the rain for Friday and Saturday but more rain may move back in on Sunday with a tropical disturbance. The street flooding knocks out my internet service, hence the late post. Today featured a returning Blue-gray gnatcatcher from 2018!
This weather pattern has really shut things down at Cape Florida, although mainland birders are seeing a constant stream of interesting species. Unfortunately high pressure to the north of us and strong easterly winds over the region are forecast to continue for the foreseeable future. It’s not quite as hot as before in the mornings but we have yet to get a real cold front sweeping through; they seem to fizzle out on the way down and we have had no evenings of NW winds the whole season. Windy high pressure has often taken some of the punch out of late October banding in other seasons; it is a pattern we get stuck in sometimes.
Nets were opened late and closed after a couple of hours due to persistent heavy storms over the area caused by a tropical wave. The ENE strong wind continues, although it is forecast to eventually shift more E to SE. Unfortunately this wind direction is expected to persist through the next week, putting a damper on what is usually our peak migration period. Nothing much we can do about it.
That pesky NE wind ended up putting a lid on today’s captures. Birds across Florida were flying low and for only part of the night last night, and although the flight looked good on Miami radar this morning, they were all over the mainland. Still, there were a few around already down in the woods at sunrise. We had a short hard shower around 0745 and a couple of flocks of mostly Northern parulas and Cape May warblers dropped in afterwards, but it got very quiet by noon. No new species for the year, and we were taunted by the Thick-billed vireo again who was hanging out between the tent and one of our nets for a large part of the morning. He remains unbanded.
…we’ll take it! A northeast wind set in today and built up as the morning progressed, making the air feel a tad drier and cooler. We banded close to the same amount of birds as yesterday of similar species, but the Chestnut-sided warbler stayed out of the nets although he was foraging right next to the banding tent for a bit. A Thick-billed vireo also did a quick fly-by of the tent, calling as he went, but he was moving quickly and was not seen again. However, there was an abundance of photogenic birds in the hand today.
The big mass of birds at the Florida-Georgia state line last night had made it halfway down the peninsula by early morning today and were showing up on Tampa and Melbourne radar. They should be here by tomorrow, but this strong northeasterly wind may shove the bulk of the migrants inland away from Cape Florida. If today is any indicator, this latest push will have a lot of Black-throated blue warblers in it but if we’re lucky some Wood thrush and Bay-breasted warblers will be in the mix. We are 53 birds short of 2,000 for the season, so we will see what we get!
Thunderstorms moved into the area overnight and opening nets was delayed a little bit while we waited for them to pass. The rest of the day was overcast and drizzly and strong thunderstorms built up again in the afternoon, but we were done with banding by then. Sometimes days like this end up great for banding as it is not as hot as usual and the nets are harder for the birds to see with no sun hitting them. We continue to catch our typical species, but the volume of captures is high for many of them. We have now broken the Black-and-white warbler record of 173 banded in 2008, as we are up to 177 now. So we are closing in on the 2,000 bird of the season but we haven’t broken 50 species yet. We usually catch at least 60 species in other years with over 2,000 captures. We’ll see; there are at least 5 more species that we should capture such as Indigo bunting, Wood thrush, Tennessee warbler, Bay-breasted warbler and Eastern phoebe.
The diversity was back today! The radar returns across the entire continental Southeast have been bright green with the density of migration for the past couple of nights, and the daytime radar has shown a strong flight across the Gulf. Each day new birds are coming through, and today was more diverse as the catbirds came in second to the Black-throated blues. This is the species that can truly swarm our site, and the middle to end of October is the prime time for days with over 50% Black-throated blue captures.
Left: adult female (photo by Miriam Avello ) Right: hatching-year male (photo by Alex Sharp)
We captured our first Yellow-throated warbler of the fall. Although this species is common in the winter, we usually only catch one or two a season. It is rare to see flocks of Yellow-throated warblers at all, as they usually are seen hanging out by themselves in palms. This is the true Palm warbler, and Palm warblers should be renamed Lawn warblers. The touch of yellow in the supercilium above the eye indicates that this bird belongs to the population that breeds to the east of the Appalachians.
Today exactly 50% of the new captures were Gray catbirds, including this guy/gal banded in 2019 who is returning to spend the winter at Cape Florida. Catbirds dominated the early to mid-morning net runs, but as the day progressed more species appeared in the nets. This is a fairly common phenomenon and could be caused by a number of reasons such as new birds coming in later in the morning or birds already in the woods moving lower to net level to avoid the midday heat or the stream of raptors overhead.
Whatever the cause, the Wednesday crew started a warbler speed dating service, but with predictable results: