Early Swainson’s Thrush

Migration has been moderate but steady for the past week, with anywhere from 10 to 32 birds banded each day. We have not captured any new species for the season for several days, but today we were surprised by a Swainson’s thrush who is a week ahead of schedule. Our previous early date for Swainson’s was 20 September 2003. The Veery is usually the first Catharus thrush to pass through south Florida in fall,  with Swainson’s movements peaking in late Sept and Grey-cheeked thrushes coming in October. The winds have been southerly for the past week, although migrants are making progress against the headwinds. Many of the birds banded this week have had large fat loads and only stopped at Cape Florida because of thunderstorms over the ocean blocking their path south.

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Swainson’s thrushes and the other Catharus species have long, efficient wing shapes and are very strong migrants. It usually takes stormy weather to make numbers of them land in south Florida as they can complete a migration from the mid-Atlantic to the islands or northern South America in about two days. These birds fuel their migrations with fruit such as ficus and Virginia creeper.

A strong front cleared the northern Gulf coast yesterday, and millions of birds can be seen on radar moving behind it. We are hoping winds can direct some of these birds towards our section of coast tonight and perhaps we will see some more first-of-season species tomorrow.

Totals through today: 380 birds of 23 species. Top ten:

  1. Ovenbird, 103
  2. Worm-eating warbler, 69
  3. American redstart, 34
  4. Northern waterthrush, 33
  5. Prairie warbler, 31
  6. Black and white warbler, 28
  7. Blue-gray gnatcatcher, 12
  8. Northern parula, 11
  9. Swainson’s warbler, 11
  10. Red-eyed vireo, 11
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