The migration is already working its way back down the east coast! This is one of the neatest, non-colony-related things about working on Seal Island during the nesting season where you get to see the birds, all kinds of birds, in their bi-annual migration, first from the south to their northern nesting grounds in spring and, once all the chicks are grown up and fledged, they all turn around and head together back down again to spend the winter in warmer climes.
Our birds aren’t all at that point yet to join the movement, whereas the earlier-nesting, more northerly nesting birds are already done and passing through. Being that we’re 23 miles off the east coast, we mostly are getting birds that are either hopping island to island (specifically the shorebirds) or that are just young and very confused, as with a trio of juvenile robins that stuck around for a few days, some (if not all) of which have already gotten snapped up by a migrating merlin that has taken a liking to all the awkward tern fledgers around for the easy pickin’.
It’s really exciting to see all the wood warblers come through in May and early June, bright in their breeding plumage. Since we have no woods here, and these birds are desperate, you can find yourself just a stone’s throw away from these tiny passerines as they forage on the ground and in the grass, trying to maintain their fat reserves for the ever-more taxing journey. Getting blown out to sea can mean certain death to many, but those that come across an island in the mist, a little warbler might be able to take a moment to rest and replenish and make the trek back to the mainland and rejoin the migration route.
Sometimes we see some pretty exciting birds, thrown off course and sent out of their normal range. One poor glossy ibis found itself between a rock and a hard place when it came upon Seal Island, first the tern colony was hot on its heels and then, as it followed the island down its length, the gulls were there to greet it with vengeance. A great blue heron and then yellow-crowned night heron didn’t seem to take the hint that the terns wanted them out, even after repeated blunders into the colony, long stick legs flailing as they twisted and turned in the air to avoid repeated blows. Okay, so maybe we’re not the most welcoming island..
We’ve had some interesting vagrants, a white-winged dove that looked beautiful tiptoeing among the rock cliffs and had us singing Stevie Nicks for the rest of the evening. There was a red-breasted nuthatch that took a liking to the seeding curly dock and stuck around for awhile, climbing around on the rocks as if they were the trees that reminded it of home. A catbird stayed on for the whole summer, happy in the gully below our tents and almost always around when evening bird count comes around where we list the day’s birds. If we don’t have him yet for that day, Nick runs down and squeaks him out of hiding. We had a nighthawk join us for several evenings, wheeling and diving above the
spooge pool (our “freshwater pond” near the cabin) in the fading light. There was a spattering of flycatchers, including Traill’s, olive-sided and wood peewees. Several thrushes and red-eyed vireos, which are fun to see on the boulders and low vegetation since they usually like to be hidden in the branches back on the mainland. Lately we’ve had a young brown-headed cowbird that we’ve kind of been fawning over (don’t tell anyone), it’s just lonely and confused and basically has no problem walking within a foot of our own feet.
And then there’s Troppie. He has his own weird migration, who knows if he even breeds. I just know he’s the coolest bird on the island and I love that he just keeps coming back to Maine every summer since I first saw him when he made his premiere debut. He’ll soon join the southern migration, back down to wherever he goes for the winter, likely South America, after a lovely summer, one that I was so lucky to share with him, here on Seal Island. He has the right idea, though, I wouldn’t mind making this yearly migration myself!