Monday, September 12, 2016

The Coves -- a new 'thing' in Ontario birding?

The title might be a bit dramatic, but I've been nonetheless enthralled the last few days with the notion that we, Ontario birders, may have our very own Cape May morning flight going's just that we don't have to travel all the way to New Jersey to see it...

Rewind a few weeks ago: Barb Charlton, aka Barbed-Wire, and Big Country (formerly known as Tim Lucas) and I went down to Hatteras, North Carolina for some pelagics (I will be doing a blogpost on this at some point!) in late August. During one of our countless, random conversations during our 30 hours of driving Tim mentioned that he thought the Coves might provide a location where morning flights of landbirds could be observed. This was a really interesting idea and left me thinking a fair bit over the next little while about the location and the phenomenon.

Editors Note: For those that don't know where the Coves are....the Coves are the extreme western edge of Big Creek Marsh and the base of the Long Point peninsula, slightly raised above the lakeshore (~40 feet up?), where the vegetation from Big Creek marsh narrows to <100m of vegetation along the lakeshore. This geographical feature acts as a natural funnel for birds moving westwards, along the lakeshore.

Pardon my 'Bradon-esk' map making (they're not as nice as what Brandon would do); yellow star is where the Coves are. Yellow arrows are where birds would move (west along the point, west along the shore, and south along the Big Creek corridor), with lesser movements overland through the various green patches (orange arrows).

Fast forward to last week: I was able to take last Friday (Sept. 9th) off and luckily also had some conducive weather for songbird migration too -- north winds and slightly cooler temps.

I got down to the Coves on the 9th and immediately had Warblers and other landbirds migrating overhead, moving west. I was excited! Tim was right! Over the course of the next few hours I had about 2,000 birds that would be counted if I was doing a 'standard' morning flight at Cape May -- which is pretty decent. Warblers accounted for about 500 individuals, with American Redstarts (38), Magnolia (29), Chestnut-sided (11), and Blackpoll (7) comprising the main numbers (that I was able to identify). Other species like Bobolink (64), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (54) and Red-eyed Vireos (38) were also around in good numbers.

To top things off, I also had a Eurasian Collared-Dove(!) flyby! Pretty sweet! See my eBird checklist, here to see everything I observed:

Sunday (Sept 11), I managed to make it back down and again there was a decent movement, however, not as good, though I somewhat expected this after taking a look at the wind map the night before, looking at the wind field. Again, decent numbers of warblers, with ~150 individuals noted:

It was interesting to compare the 2 days that I've been down there so far; it appears that any day with a north wind could be good for a morning flight. I think the rarity potential for this site is excellent (look at my Sept. 9th checklist), with species like Dickcissel, Western Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher surely occurring on a 'regular' basis, while other species like American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Bobolinks, American Goldfinches expected to show up in huge numbers.