Updates from the Turkey Point Morning Flight Count – 9/30/22
The last two weeks of September here at Turkey Point surely beat my expectations, and thanks to several nice cold fronts, plenty of new arrivals and the best flights of the season were noted. These days, the skies above the Point are dominated by massive flocks of Blue Jays and a constant stream of woodpeckers, Myrtle Warblers, swallows, and hawks.
A species that exploded in numbers over the past two weeks are Red-bellied Woodpeckers. There had been a few decent flights of around 80 individuals in the latter half of September but a strong front that blew through on the 27th brought 405 of these guys past the Point on the 28th – a new high count for the species across their entire range! Similar to winter finches, Red-bellied Woodpeckers not only migrate, but are irruptive. Meaning the availability of food to the north (likely acorns) determines how many come south in the fall. Oaks produce acorns every year, but do so in cycles of boom or bust every few years. If the bust cycle of most species of oaks in the north woods falls on the same year, extreme shortages of acorns will occur, driving Red-bellied Woodpeckers south in search of better acorn crops. A mere 126 were counted over the entire season last year, likely due to a good acorn crop holding birds in the north. This highlights the importance of running a morning flight count for many consecutive years in order to identify extremes that may happen only once in 5 or 10 years.
In the past few weeks, Blue Jays have arrived at Turkey Point by the thousands. On clear, sunny days with a moderate northwest wind, massive flocks of these guys will circle the Point, deciding whether to cross the Elk River back to the mainland and continue their southward migration. Similar to Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Blue Jays are also irruptive and move south in larger numbers if acorn crops in the north are obsolete.
The last two weeks of September brought the first good hawk flights of the season with over 100 Broad-winged Hawks on the 15th. Dozens of Sharp-shinned and Coopers pass by the Point on a daily basis now, as well as Merlins, kestrels, harriers, and a few Red-tailed. Hawk migration peaks in October so we are just getting started.
Cape May Warblers are still going strong with the season high of 201 on the 16th, but will start slowing down once October hits. By the end of the month, Cape Mays had already been replaced as the most common warbler by Blackpolls and Myrtles, which will be the dominant warbler going forward. Excellent conditions on the 28th brought the seasons high for Tennessee and Black-throated Green Warbler with 40, and 26 respectively. The species listed previously as well as other late-season migrants like Palm and Nashville will be the expected warblers for the next month or so.
Plenty of new arrivals have been noted in the past few weeks as well. Species like Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, both kinglets, sparrows, and puddle ducks are coming in with force. Some rather uncommon species have also been spotted at the Point as well, including 2 Royal terns, Brown Booby, Summer Tanager, and several dickcissels. With each cold front and the change of seasons, the chances of a western vagrant only increase. Fingers crossed a yellow-bellied kingbird or something of that quality pays a visit.
Thanks for reading and happy birding!
3 thoughts on “Updates from the Turkey Point Morning Flight Count – 9/30/22”
Exciting to see these numbers! Great job!