October Winds Brought Southern Birds

Posted:  Wednesday, November 22, 2017 - 10:15am

The memory of the late October windstorm that caused record-breaking power outages across Maine may be starting to fade but there are some ornithological remnants that are still with us. The powerful flow of winds from the South actually started a few days before the arrival of the storm here in Maine, sweeping with them many migrating birds and dropping them here in our state (and in the Canadian Martimes as well). Oddities abounded, mostly with a distinctly southeastern U.S. flavor—birds that you might expect to see during spring and summer in places like Georgia, the Carolinas, and Florida.

Our friends and fellow birders Kristen Lindquist and Paul Dorian were out on Monhegan at the time and discovered not just one but THREE yellow-throated warblers. That’s a species that winters in the Caribbean and Central America, with small numbers in south Florida. The closest nesting populations to us here in Maine are in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. And three Monhegan birds were not the end of the yellow-throated warbler story as other individual birds were found in Sabattus, North Windham, and at Schoodic Point, and more than a dozen more were found in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. White-eyed vireo is another southeastern specialty bird that has a winter range encompassing Cuba, parts of Mexico, and north to the southern fringe of the Gulf Coast states and Florida. A birder scouring the thickets of Bailey Island on October 28th found three white-eyed vireos along with a yellow-throated vireo (another bird that should have been in Central or South America or the Caribbean). Amazingly, at least 12 more were found along the Maine coast. Those numbers paled in comparison to what birders found in Nova Scotia with (according to eBird) dozens of sightings and numbers as high as 10 to 13 at single locations! One even made it to southern Newfoundland, where it has been delighting scores of birders there.

The surprising southerly bird sightings continued to mount here in Maine with summer tanagers found at Schoodic Point, Roque Bluffs, South Portland, and one in Biddeford that many people have seen   (and Nova Scotia had 20 or more!). Another tanager, this time the even rarer western tanager, was found in Cape Elizabeth.

Our friends on Aruba, off the coast of Venezuela, have been sending photos of the bright yellows of wintering hooded warblers and prothonotary warblers for more than a month. We mention that just to remind you again of where species like these are normally found at this time of year! But as you might have already guessed, both of these species were also swept up in the late-October storm and found themselves dealing amid much, much cooler temperatures. A prothonotary warbler spent about a week in Bar Harbor rather than a steamy mangrove forest of the Caribbean where most of its compatriots probably were. At least four hooded warblers were found after the storm as well here in Maine including two that birders were continuing to see in Biddeford at the time of this writing. Dozens of hooded warblers were blown by the southerly winds into Nova Scotia as well, with one location tallying eight birds.

Storms do have consequences as we all experienced when the power went out. For birds, though, the consequences are often much longer lasting. Let’s hope that many of these off-course birds can find enough food to power them south again for the winter.

Jeffrey V. Wells, Ph.D., is a Fellow of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Dr. Wells is one of the nation's leading bird experts and conservation biologists and author of the “Birder’s Conservation Handbook.” His grandfather, the late John Chase, was a columnist for the Boothbay Register for many years. Allison Childs Wells, formerly of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a senior director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a nonprofit membership organization working statewide to protect the nature of Maine. Both are widely published natural history writers and are the authors of the popular book, “Maine’s Favorite Birds” and the just-released “Birds of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao” from Cornell University Press.