Whispers of a BIG autumn Finch flight + late summer Warblers

 29 August 2018

Bird Notes: this past Saturday (25 August), our group found a lone Pine Siskin while calling in a number of Red-breasted Nuthatches. This may be significant: Pine Siskins are not seen on migration in our area every year, and when they are it is usually beginning in late September through mid-October. About once every ten years we have a big fall flight (irruption) as we did in 2008 - see photo above from November 2008. The appearance of this August Pine Siskin along with many Red-breasted Nuthatches (observed since mid-July) suggests that there could be a major fall flight of other northern (boreal) seed-eating birds such as Evening Grosbeaks and Crossbills, or perhaps not...stay tuned! NYC Owl Notes: this past Monday evening (27 August) starting at 8pm (dusk), two guests from Germany and I looked for owls at Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan) and in two parks in the Bronx. At Inwood, we saw two Eastern Screech-owls simultaneously, and we believe others were calling nearby suggesting a small family; at Van Cortlandt Park (Bx) we saw only one Eastern Screech-owl but heard several more in the woods around us and we believe two adults and four young would be a good guess; at Pelham Bay Park (Bx) we heard, but did not see at least two, and likely three, young hatch-year Great Horned Owls at one location. Nearby we had two large birds bolt from a tree above us. Overall, two to four pairs of Great Horned Owls nest in Pelham Bay Park each year.

 

Our bird photos come from Deborah Allen (see her links below), and show birds from Central Park including Northern Parula Warbler, Dickcissel and White-winged Crossbill.

 

In this week's historical notes we continue the theme of birds colliding with buildings. This week we head out of town to the nation's capitol, and trace bird disasters at the Washington Monument - a building without windows. An (a) 1889 article points out that birds had been colliding with the Washington Monument for several years and that NO LIGHT had been on the building during that time - electricity had just been discovered! The article suggests that such collisions happen primarily on southbound migration - no mention is made of spring (northbound) disasters. We then present a series (b; c; d; e) of articles by Robert Overing from the mid-1930s about bird collisions at this same location - but now lights are an integral part of migration disasters. Note that birds were colliding primarily on the east and south faces of the Washington Monument (in the 1930s but NOT in the 19th century before lights were installed) as they were heading south at night on migration; most of the dead birds were young ones in immature (hatch-year) plumage. By comparison, late in the same season (20 October 1935 as well as 18 October 1936) many sparrows were migrating at night, and though they landed immediately around the Monument, none collided. We also (f) include a 23 October 1932 article from Washington DC (the Capitol Building) about a nocturnal flight of Chipping Sparrows - none collided with that illuminated building that night; and finally (g), an article from mid-October 1906 describing bird mortality in southern Canada: a "natural" migration disaster occurred at night as extraordinary numbers of migrants encounter rain, snow and winds over Lake Huron. Such "natural" disasters were (and are) not uncommon...and the number of birds killed can be in the tens of thousands.

 

female Pine Grosbeak: are these seed-eating birds from the north (and others such as Crossbills) headed our way this fall?

Deborah Allen Photos

Central Park:

Northern Parula on 27 September 2017 - https://www.photo.net/photo/18426273

Chestnut-sided Warbler on 30 August 2017: https://www.photo.net/photo/18418427

Dickcissel (first-fall female) on 13 November 2013: https://tinyurl.com/y9oeejm5

Dickcissel (spring male) on 28 May 2016: https://www.photo.net/photo/18238720

Carolina Wren in July 2017: https://www.photo.net/photo/18405022

White-winged Crossbill (female) on 14 February 2009: https://tinyurl.com/y7ghft7g

Deborah Allen's web site for bird photos: https://tinyurl.com/ydflkdp4

 

Tennessee Warbler by Doug Leffler

Good! Here are the bird walks for late Aug/early Sept - each $10***

1. Friday, 31 August - 9:00am - Meet at Conservatory Garden at 105th st. and 5th Ave.

2. Saturday, 1 September - 7:30am/9:30am - the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe'.

3. Sunday, 2 September - 7:30am/9:30am - the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe'.

4. Monday, 3 Sept. - 8:00am/9:00am - Strawberry Fields (Imagine Mosaic) at 72 st/CPW.

 

***NOTE: on MORNINGS when two walks are scheduled (e.g., 7:30/9:30am), you can do both walks for $10/person...you get two for the price of one.

 

Directions to All Meeting Locations can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/ya65n5a8

 

Any questions send them our way: rdcny@earthlink.net or 718-828-8262 (home)

 

The fine print: On Saturdays and Sundays, our walks meet at 7:30am and again at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive).  Please note: the Boathouse is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time!. Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is above (= rdcny@earthlink.net). On Mondays we meet at 8am and again at 9am at Strawberry Fields (the benches near the "Imagine" Mosaic. Enter the park at 72nd street and Central Park West and walk about 1 minute due east on the main, paved path and find the Mosaic - we are sitting nearby. On Fridays we meet at Conservatory Garden located at 105th street and 5th Avenue. Enter through the main gates and walk down the steps - head straight ahead along the long, grassy area - we meet by the giant water spout between the men's room and the women's room.

If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not, check this web site the morning of the walk: info will be posted on the main landing page as well as the "Schedule" page by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 11pm the night before. If still confused and as a last resort, call us at home - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk!

We end all our weekend and Monday Central Park walks at the Boathouse at about noon; you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total). For our Friday walks, we usually end up at (or very near) Conservatory Garden, most often at 106th street and 5th Avenue. Walks last about 3 hrs (less if hot or rainy), and you can leave at anytime - we won't be offended. If you need directions/help to your next destination, just ask someone on the walk - we are a helpful group.

 Yellow-shafted Flicker (female) by Doug Leffler

 

 

Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights). Not all species we saw are reported here - we list the best:

Friday, 24 August (Conservatory Garden at 105th St. and 5th Avenue at 9am) - Not a lot of birds but diversity was good...I just wish many of the birds I found before 8:30am remained for the 9am walk so that everyone could see them. For example on my early prowl, a female or young male DICKCISSEL was happily feeding on grass seeds by the Green Bench. Nearby a Red-breasted Nuthatch (RBNU) was foraging in the pine trees, and when I started playing nuthatch calls, a Black-billed Cuckoo popped up from a viney entanglement nearby. Overall we had 11 warbler species, Belted Kingfisher, Olive-sided Flycatcher...and three more Red-breasted Nuthatches on the Great Hill - here comes the RBNU irruption (stay tuned).

Deborah Allen's list of birds for Friday, 24 August: https://tinyurl.com/y93q4o8y
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Saturday, 25 August (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - forget everything else - indeed forget the 15 or so Red-breasted Nuthatches or the 9 warbler species seen today. Think about the Pine Siskin clearly seen by several people when it came in to my tape using calls. This is our first hint that the Red-breasted Nuthatch (RBNUs) irruption might also include other seed eating species heading south into our area in higher than normal numbers. When was the last time anyone saw a Pine Siskin this early in the season? And when will others arrive? Will others arrive this Thursday (30 August) as a cold front moves through our area and breaks the heat wave? Or will Pine Siskins, and possibly Evening Grosbeaks, several Crossbill species and others come south in late September or October? Or will the irruption consist of only one species (RBNU)? What we did today was put a "YES" on Red-breasted Nuthatches coming south in number...but we raised the stakes this morning with the sighting of the lone Pine Siskin. Ask me again next week and in October! By the way, "there are no previous eBird records in July or August in Central Park for Pine Siskins. The earliest prior record is 23 September 2014 in the North End," this info from David Barrett. He continues, "Historically there are a small number of July and August records in nearby New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island, though none in New York City. This year (2018) the only other nearby record is from south-central Connecticut (Middlesex) on 5 August."

Deborah Allen's list of birds for Saturday, 25 August: https://tinyurl.com/y7g9yzcc
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Sunday, 26 August (Boathouse Restaurant at 7:30am and again at 9:30am) - overnite winds became southerly from Saturday into this morning and (combined with the increased heat and humidity by 10:30am), we saw fewer birds today than on the previous two days. No matter what we will always see Red-breasted Nuthatches on every walk for the next several weeks - likely through December. However, other highlight birds were scarce: a male American Goldfinch feasting on seeds of sunflowers on the west side of the Great Lawn; the continuing first year Hairy Woodpecker in the area of Warbler Rock; and about seven warbler species but these were the usual suspects except for the two Black-throated Greens; the others included Redstart, Chestnut-sided, Northern Waterthrush, Canada, etc.

Deborah Allen's list of birds for Sunday, 26 August: We don't have a list from Deborah because she had to make an unexpected trip to visit her mom in Washington state - she will be back in two weeks.
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Monday, 27 August (Strawberry Fields at 8:00am and again at 9:00am) - continued hot weather though we did have a somewhat better day than yesterday (Sunday). Highlights on this hot Monday were lots of Red-breasted Nuthatches (at least 10); the hatch-year Hairy Woodpecker; and these seven (7) warbler species: Common Yellowthroat (3); American Redstart (12 with two adult males); Chestnut-sided (2); Northern Waterthrush (1); Northern Parula (1); Black-and-white (2); Blue-winged Warbler (1).

Deborah Allen's list of birds for Monday, 27 August: We don't have a list from Deborah because she had to make an unexpected trip to visit her mom in Washington state - she will be back in two weeks.                           

Cedar Waxwing (hatch-year bird) by Doug Leffler

HISTORICAL NOTES

BIRDS KILLED BY THE WASHINGTON MONUMENT [1889]. A great many small birds in their migration southward, through Washington city, are meeting death by flying against the Washington Monument. This plain shaft, rising 555ft. into the air, with a width of 50ft., has killed hundreds of birds during the last few years. Sixty-seven dead birds were collected by a gentleman the other morning. These consisted of sparrows, wrens, warblers, etc. The most remarkable thing about it is the fact that there is no light upon the monument to attract the birds, they seem to strike against it entirely by chance.
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The Fall Migration at the Washington Monument [1935]. The Washington Monument, a white stone shaft rising 555 feet in height, is situated near the busiest part of the city of Washington, D. C., and affords an opportunity for quite an unusual method of bird study. For several years after the monument was erected, birds in migration struck it by the score, thousands probably being killed by coming into forcible contact with it. Reports state that it was not an unknown occurrence to pick up a bushel of dead birds at its base that had been killed during a single night.

Later, as the city grew, either the birds changed their course of flight or the survivors became educated concerning the dangers of the Washington Monument. At least in recent years very few birds were striking the monument each season until 1932, when it was decided to flash giant beacons on the shaft from dusk until 11:45 each night. That year, 1932, Miss Phoebe Knappen of the United States Biological Survey, who is keenly interested in all bird data taken at the Washington Monument, picked up 324 birds at the monument, and the next year she gathered a total of 331 birds, mostly warblers and vireos.

Last fall (1935) I visited the monument each night (with a few exceptions) from August 30 to November 7. Before listing a few statistics on the results of my nightly observations, I shall describe briefly a typical good bird night, that of September 6, 1935. The weather was clear, but there was no moon. There was not much wind. Early in the evening the first birds struck the monument, and others came tumbling down its sides until the beacon lights were turned out at 11:45. At times birds were raining down so fast that the three of us who were watching that night could not keep track of them all. We could hear the birds chirping as they neared the monument, and then could see them, as they came into the path of the lights, three, four, or five hundred feet above us, fly directly toward the monument. Many birds would immediately strike head-on with an audible blow, and would drop like plummets to the concrete at the base with quite a loud thud. Others, though they seemed to strike as hard, would back away from the monument after the impact and continue their journey. Still others would strike their heads on the stone again and again, each time at a lower level than the time before, and finally would come fluttering down the sides vainly trying to find a foothold on the smooth surface. Several of these latter were saved from probable death by landing in our outstretched hands. Those that seemed none the worse for the experience we let fly away at once. Many of the birds, either from their own efforts or the action of the wind, dropped at a considerable distance from the monument. We located these with flashlights.

We took home with us that night a total of seventy-four birds, twenty-one of which were liberated the next day, seemingly fully recovered. The other fifty-six were dead when we picked them up, or died during the night. Of the seventy-four birds, forty-six were Red-eyed Vireos. There were ten Maryland Yellow-throats, three Magnolia Warblers, three Yellow-breasted Chats, and two Bay-breasted Warblers. There was one each of the following species: Black and White Warbler, Redstart, Blackburnian Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Scarlet Tanager.

During the entire 1935 fall migration thirty-three species, comprising 246 individuals were obtained near the base of the Washington Monument. They include: Northern Flicker, 1; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 1; Brown Creeper, 2; Long-billed Marsh Wren, 2; Short-billed Marsh Wren, 1; Catbird, 1; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 3; Eastern Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 1; White-eyed Vireo, 4; Blue-headed Vireo, 1; Red-eyed Vireo, 110; Philadelphia Vireo, 2; Black and White Warbler, 1; Tennessee Warbler, 1; Nashville Warbler, 1; Parula (Parula and Northern Parula), 3; Magnolia Warbler, 31; Cape May Warbler, 1 ; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 1; Black-throated Green Warbler, 15; Blackburnian Warbler, 3; Bay-breasted Warbler, 2; Black-poll Warbler, 3 ; Yellow Palm Warbler, 2; Ovenbird, 2; Connecticut Warbler, 2; Yellow-throat (Northern and Maryland), 31; Yellow-breasted Chat, 10; American Redstart, 4; Scarlet Tanager, 1; Eastern Grasshopper Sparrow, 1; Field Sparrow, 1; Eastern Song Sparrow, 1.

The above list includes all birds taken at the monument. Thirty-six of the birds were recovered and include twenty-eight Red-eyed Vireos, three Magnolia Warblers, four Maryland Yellow-throats, and one Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I personally handled and identified (or in a few cases had Dr. Oherholser or others verify my identifications) practically every one of the 246 birds. I prepared sixty of the birds for my collection.

A few facts concerning migration at the monument may he mentioned. Nearly all birds struck the monument on nights when there was no moon. There were more fatalities on windy nights than on calm nights. Over one-half of the birds struck the monument on the east face, and nearly all of the rest on the south face. Why this should be I cannot quite figure out-all faces are illuminated identically; the direction of migration is from northeast to southwest; and the wind usually was from the west, northwest, or southwest. Why do so many birds hit the south side and so few the north? Miss Knappen tells me it is the same each year. Nearly all birds were in immature or juvenile plumage, which made the identification of several difficult and fascinating. Nearly all stomachs were examined, but none contained any food whatsoever. As may be expected, most of the birds had fractured skulls. There were few broken wings and legs. The vireos, being heavier than the warblers, would strike the monument much harder, and a larger percentage of them would fall.

On rainy or misty nights, Whip-poor-wills, apparently feeding upon insects attracted by the beacons (which are on the ground in large boxes around the base of the monument) flew round and round the monument at low levels, often as low as our heads. Once a Whip-poor-will came so close to me that I could see his large luminous brick-red eye.

On October 20, hundreds of Field Sparrows settled on the benches and light boxes at the base of the monument, apparently resting. None of these sparrows struck the monument that night, nor did they seem confused by the lights nor fly against the shaft, as the vireos and warblers were doing. Besides the birds, four bats died from striking the monument while in pursuit of insect prey. Three were Red Bats, the other a Little Brown Bat. Very few birds strike the monument during spring migrations, according to Miss Knappen. Mr. Allen McIntosh of the Bureau of Animal Industry, examined 190 of the birds for  parasites. An abstract of his results is published in the Journal of Parasitology. ROBERT OVERING, Landover, Md.
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The Fall Migration at the Washington Monument [1936]. The following may be added to the records of bird migration at the Washington Monument in Washington, D. C. A total of 277 birds of thirty species were picked up at the Washington Monument in 1936, compared with 246 individuals of thirty-three species in 1935. No results have yet been obtained in eliminating the beacon lights during the height of the migration season. In fact, the lights were turned on the monument fifteen minutes longer each night in 1936 than in 1935, thus considerably increasing the chances for bird mortality.

In 1936 the nights of September 17 and 18 were the big nights of the season. Well over one-half of the mortality occurred on these two nights alone, with 101 birds picked up on the 17th and ninety-five on the 18th. Both nights were very stormy, and at the same time a hurricane was raging through the South Coastal States (which may not have had anything to do with the bird migration at the Washington Monument, however).

Two new observers, William Wimsatt and James Fox, two enthusiastic young men who attended the Audubon Nature Camp in Maine, were on hand nearly every night, and they, as well as Miss Knappen and Allen McIntosh, kindly aided me in securing complete data on migration at the Monument. Two Connecticut Warblers were so fat that when they landed at the base of the monument they burst open and left large splotches of grease that did not wash off nor wear away for many weeks. Whip-poor-wills were present at the Monument until October 23, on which date a bird of this species in a careless swoop struck a bench with enough force to cause it to cry out in pain and surprise, and to stop and rest awhile on the bench.

October 18 was a sparrow night. Sparrows alighted on the benches and roadway in numbers, exhausted, perhaps, but none struck the Monument. With a flashlight in one hand and a pair of field glasses in the other I was able to identify one bird as a White-throated Sparrow, but the remaining birds were too restless for such identification. October 23 was a similar sparrow night, but on that night a Grasshopper Sparrow was picked up dead a few minutes before the beacons were extinguished at midnight.

The following is the list of birds which struck the Washington Monument in the Fall of 1936: Chimney Swift, 1; Northern Flicker, 4; Eastern Wood Pewee, 2; Long-billed Marsh Wren, 4; Short-billed Marsh Wren, 5; Catbird, 1; Eastern Golden-crowned Kinglet, 1; Eastern Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 2; White-eyed Vireo, 13; Yellow-throated Vireo, 1; Red-eyed Vireo, 56; Black and White Warbler, 2; Parula Warbler (subsp. ?), 4; Magnolia Warbler, 29; Cape May Warbler, 4; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 4 ; Black-throated Green Warbler, 13 ; Blackburnian Warbler, 1; Bay-breasted Warbler, 1; Black-poll Warbler, 3; Northern Prairie Warbler, 1; Yellow Palm Warbler, 1; Ovenbird, 14; Connecticut Warbler, 8; Yellow-throat (Maryland and Northern), 78; Yellow-breasted Chat, 6; American Redstart, 7; Indigo Bunting, 2; Eastern Grasshopper Sparrow, 1; Eastern Henslow's Sparrow, 1; unidentified (5 disposed of by guards and 2 partly eaten by cats), 7.

This list brings the total mortality at the Monument for the years 1935 and 1936 to 523 individuals of thirty-nine species. It is interesting to note that in 1935 the dates of migration extended from August 28 to October 24, while in 1936 they extended from August 17 to October 23. In 1935 the Red-eyed Vireos headed the list with 110 individuals. Magnolia Warblers and Maryland Yellow-throats tied for second place with thirty-one each. In 1936 the Yellow-throats were first with seventy-eight individuals, Red-eyed Vireos second with fifty-six, and Magnolia Warblers third with twenty-nine.

Of all the birds the Red-eyed Vireos period of migration has been the longest. In 1935, Red-eyes were picked up on eighteen different nights from August 28 to October 6. In 1936 they were picked up on seventeen different nights from August 22 to October 21. As in 1935 several bats struck the Monument with enough force to stun or kill them.

 

ROBERT OVERING, Landover, Md.
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The Fall Migration at the Washington Monument [1937]. The following notes may be added to the records of bird migration at the Washington Monument in Washington, D. C. The bird mortality at the monument was much greater in 1937 than in any other recent year, 945 individuals of 43 species having been recorded this fall.

In 1937, again, there were two big nights, though they were not consecutive as in 1936. On September 12, in the hour and a half preceding midnight, 576 birds fell to the base of the Monument. Two weeks later, on September 26, 251 birds were picked up. The remaining 118 birds struck the Monument in numbers from 1 to 23 on 27 other nights from August 27 to October 30.

The list of birds which struck the monument in the Fall of 1937 follows: Northern Flicker, 1; Brown Creeper, 1; Eastern House Wren, 1; Long-billed Marsh Wren, 4; Short-billed Marsh Wren, 2; Catbird, 1; Olive-backed Thrush, 1; Eastern Golden-crowned Kinglet, 14; Eastern Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 17; Cedar Waxwing, 2; White-eyed Vireo, 31; Yellow-throated Vireo, 1; Blue-headed Vireo, 6; Red-eyed Vireo, 242; Philadelphia Vireo, 2; Black and White Warbler, 13: Blue-winged Warbler, 1; Tennessee Warbler, 7; Nashville Warbler, 1; Parula Warbler (subsp.?), 41; Magnolia Warbler, 121; Cape May Warbler, 3; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 11; Myrtle Warbler, 3; Black-throated Green Warbler, 66; Blackburnian Warbler, 6; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 15; Bay-breasted Warbler, 7; Black-poll Warbler, 7; Northern Pine Warbler, 2; Palm Warbler (subsp.?), 5: Oven-bird, 16; Connecticut Warbler, 7; Yellow-throat (subsp.?), 238; Yellow-breasted Chat, 4: American Redstart, 29; Scarlet Tanager, 1; Indigo Bunting, 4: Eastern Grasshopper Sparrow, 1; Eastern Henslow's Sparrow, 1; Slate-colored Junco, 1; Eastern Field Sparrow, 6; Swamp Sparrow, 2.

As in the preceding two years, the same three species suffered most heavily. There were picked up 242 Red-eyed Vireos, 238 Yellow-throats, and 121 Magnolia Warblers. Nearly two-thirds of the total number were of these three species. There were 66 Black-throated Green Warblers in 1937 as compared with 13 in 1936 and 15 in 1935. The total number of birds which have struck the Monument in the past three fall migrations is now 1,468, and, with the addition of eight previously unrecorded species, the 1937 list brings the total number of species to forty-seven. The last date Whip-poor-wills were seen flying about the Monument was October 27.

Again Miss Phoebe Knappen and Allen McIntosh of the Department of Agriculture, and William Wimeatt and James Fox greatly aided me in securing the data submitted herewith.

 

ROBERT OVERING, Landover, Maryland.
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High mortality at the Washington Monument [12 September 1937]. A total of 576 individuals, the largest number of birds to strike the Washington Monument, Washington, D.C., in a single night in recent years, was picked up at the base of the shaft on the night of September 12, 1937. All came down in the hour and a half from 10.30 p.m. to midnight.

I identified twenty-four species, represented as follows: Long-billed Marsh Wren, three; White-eyed Vireo, eighteen; Yellow-throated Vireo, one; Red-eyed Vireo, 209; Philadelphia Vireo, two; Black and White Warbler, ten; Blue-winged Warbler, one; Tennessee Warbler, two; Parula Warbler (subsp.), twenty-three; Magnolia Warbler, thirty-four; Cape May Warbler, one; Black-throated Blue Warbler, one; Black-throated Green Warbler, twenty-two; Blackburnian Warbler, four; Chestnut-sided Warbler, eight; Bay-breasted Warbler, two; Black-poll Warbler, one; Palm Warbler (subsp.), one; Oven-bird, thirteen; Connecticut Warbler, two; Yellow-throat (Maryland and other subsp.), 189; Yellow-breasted Chat, one; American Redstart, twenty-seven; Scarlet Tanager, one.

September 12 was a clear day; the temperature dropped from a high of 75f at 3 p.m. to 63 f at midnight; the wind was from the north and it increased in velocity from eight miles per hour at 8 p.m. to ten miles at 12 p.m; the humidity was 65% at 8 p.m., 70% at midnight; the moon set about 10.30 p.m.; a slight mist enveloped the top of the shaft.

The average yearly mortality at the Monument since 1932 is 328 individuals; thus it can be seen that 576 in one night is quite out of the ordinary.

 

ROSERT OVERING, Landover, Maryland.
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Chipping Sparrows migrating at Night [1932]. A telephone call from a Capitol guard at 9.00 P.M. on the cloudy and windy night of October 23d (1932) informed me that our National Capitol building (Washington, D.C.) had been suddenly surrounded by small birds. Immediate investigation revealed that fully a thousand Chipping Sparrows were swarming in the lighted area from the statue of Freedom on the apex of the dome, outward over the Senate and House wings and on to the lighted terrace and walks surrounding the building.

The birds were in greatest numbers in the areas of maximum light concentration. From twenty to fifty birds were resting on, or immediately in front of, each of the eight clusters of high-powered flood lights placed on the roof of the Senate and House wings, illuminating the dome at night. The birds appeared completely bewildered, scarcely an action being typical of the Chipping Sparrow as it is seen under normal conditions. For a few minutes one would settle down on the walk in the shadow of a step or projection, often almost under foot of pedestrians. Shortly it would fly with uncertainty and with no apparent purpose toward another lighted area. This restless movement was continuous from one area of light concentration to another, and there were from fifteen to one hundred birds constantly on the wing, flitting aimlessly back and forth over the Senate and House wings or irregularly circling the lighted dome.

Each of the three arcades on the dome appeared to be alive with bewildered birds unable to determine whether it was night or day, whether they should resume their migratory flight or settle down to roost. The steps, walks, and terrace also had their shares of birds, which were so tame that the observer could approach within five or ten feet. On the middle deck of the dome a lone Sparrow Hawk was startled from its perch on the top of one of the columns. It appeared to be in no way molesting the smaller birds that were endlessly passing in front of it. As usual, a number of domestic pigeons were also roosting in the darkened niches of the dome.

The absence of any leadership among the Chipping Sparrows was pronounced; they seemed to be held in the same general area merely by a desire for association with others of their kind and by the concentration of light. When in flight each individual seemed to be a law unto itself; consequently there was no group course. In their erratic zigzagging back and forth a number were seen to penetrate into the darkness, but apparently the attraction of light and companions would immediately draw them back. Even though there was some insect life present, no feeding was noted.

When the flood-lights illuminating the dome were turned off shortly after midnight, there was a marked cessation of activity. A weak illumination still shone on the statue of Freedom capping the dome. Many birds promptly flew to this area and seemed to occupy every available crevice. Most of the remaining individuals that had been on the top of the building flew to the lighted area on the terrace and walks surrounding the main structure. By 1:00 A.M. there was very little activity and the birds seemed to be settled for the night. Consequently the observer left, but when he returned about sunrise not a Chipping Sparrow could be found. No birds were noted on the nights preceding or succeeding this wave of migration, but a week later, on the night of October 29th, while the writer was out of the city, another huge flock was reported from the Capitol. From reports their actions were typical of those here described.

Clarence Cottam, United States Biological Survey, Washington, D.C.
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A Migration Disaster in Western Ontario [1906]. The early days of October, 1906, were warm and damp, but on the 6th came a north wind which carried the night temperature down to nearly freezing. Near there it stayed with little variation until the 10th, and on the 10th, the north wind brought snow through the western part of Ontario. At London there was only 2 or 3 inches, which vanished early next day; and the thermometer fell to only 32 degrees on the night of the 10th, and to 28 on the 11th. Ten miles west, there was 5 inches of snow at 5pm on October 10th, and towards Lake Huron, at the southeast comer, between Goderich and Sarnia, the snow attained a depth of nearly a foot and a half, and the temperature dropped considerably lower than at London. On that night, apparently, there must have been a heavy migration of birds across Lake Huron, and the cold and snow combined overcame many of them, so that they fell in the lake and were drowned.

Thanksgiving day fell on the 18th, and Mr. Newton Tripp of Forest, spent the day on the lake shore, near Port Franks, and observed hundreds of birds on the shore dead, cast up by the waves. He wrote me about it next day, calculating 5000 dead birds to the mile, and I took the first train to the scene of the tragedy and drove out to the lake shore that night. On the morning of the 21st, I patrolled the beach south from Grand Bend, and after covering several miles and seeing only a few dead birds, I came at last to the region of death. At first the birds were not very close together, but eventually became so plentiful that in one place. I put my foot on four, and saw as many as a dozen in four or five feet.

I began a census at once, which I continued until the lengthening shadows warned me to hurry on to the river so as to cross in daylight, but in the two or three hours spent in the count I recorded the following:

1 Black-throated Green Warbler, 1 Yellow Rail, 1 Blue-headed Vireo, 1 Red-eyed Vireo, 1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 2 Black-throated Blue Warblers, 3 Flickers, 4 Robins, 5 Fox Sparrows, 5 Savanna Sparrows, 5 Palm Warblers, 7 Myrtle Warblers, 12 Lincoln Sparrows, 15 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 18 White-crowned Sparrows, 19 Rusty Grackles, 20 Hermit Thrushes, 22 Brown Creepers, 24 Saw-whet Owls, 30 Song Sparrows, 100 Winter Wrens, 130 Swamp Sparrows, 131 Golden-crested Kinglets, 153 White-throated Sparrows, 358 Tree Sparrows, 417 Juncos. Total, 1845.

After consuming all the time I could spare in this work, I walked over two miles or so of beach, where the birds were more common than on the shore where the count was taken; this brought me within half a mile of the mouth of the Sable River, and I then crossed it and turned my steps inland to a railway station.

In Mr. Tripp's letter he spoke of the birds extending for miles along the beach, and I did not even touch the ground he mentioned.

After my return I wrote to various persons near the lake shore and the information received shows up this migration in rather a strange light. It appears that from below Grand Bend, the birds were very numerous until beyond Stoney Point, but towards Kettle Point they diminished and were not plentiful again until Blue Point, beyond which they were "laying six deep in one place." Thus it appears that from the region near Kettle Point to near Blue Point there were very few birds, while northeast of Kettle Point and southwest of Blue Point the destruction was very great.

The northeastern section, of which I covered perhaps two miles, would have approximately 1000 birds to the mile, and the whole section might be perhaps ten miles; the western section probably was thickly covered but the length is unknown, possibly three miles, or perhaps even ten. The lighthouse keepers to the north report no damage, so it is likely that the migration was limited to the district referred to.

It was a surprise to me to learn that the birds crossed Lake Huron, but Mr. W. W. Cooke tells me that he believes that "the birds fly lengthwise of Lake Huron, i.e., north and south, and also diagonally, northwest and southeast, in either case making the longest possible flight over water. The greatest distance they could find on Lake Huron would be less than 200 miles."

Whether this migration was a southern or southeastern one is hard to say. If southeastern, why were there few from Kettle Point (12 miles) to Blue Point, and if southern, why did not the birds, instead of flying parallel with the east shore, turn east and be saved? I hope some of the migration specialists may be able to throw some light on this matter.

In questioning the few residents I saw, they concurred in saying that this occurrence had no parallel in their experience.

A few notes on the status of the migration of the species in this disaster may be of interest.

The first migration of Juncos in any number was observed at London September 30, and a vast number had passed before the date of the storm.

Tree Sparrows were just coming, and were first seen near London October 22.

White-throats began to arrive in numbers September 15, and no more were noted after October 14, one week earlier than their average date of departure.

Golden-crowned Kinglets arrived at London September 25, and the movement had nearly ceased by October 10.

Swamp Sparrows do not come under my observation very much in the fall, and the last was seen September 5.

White-crowned Sparrows passed through without notice. Two Lincoln Sparrows were seen near London September 5 and 20, October 3 being the latest record in any year. Not more than one Savanna Sparrow was noted on any day after October 3.

Fox Sparrows were not observed at London until October 28, though the average date of arrival is October 3.

The migration of Winter Wrens reached London September 15, and the last was noted September 20; since then, one specimen only, on October 30. The average date of the last specimen is October 22.

The Saw-whets were a surprise. They are rare in western Ontario, and one sees them only at intervals of many years. Evidently they migrate in considerable numbers. The length of the Robin flight at London was from September 26 to October 5.

Flickers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were last seen on October 7.

Red-eyed Vireos were last seen October 12, which is the very latest date I have, and have only one other October record. Blue-headed Vireos were last seen on September 28. Black-throated Blue Warblers were last seen on September 20, and Black-throated Green on October 3.

Hermit Thrushes had nearly all passed, but were seen until October 16. I have been a careful student of migrations for many years, but the lesson of this storm shows how many species and individuals one may miss when the birds are silent.

 

W. E. SAUNDERS, London, Ontario.
==============================================
Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC

 young (hatch-year) Rose-breasted Grosbeak by Doug Leffler


 

 

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