Recently however, a couple systems of very strong southern winds pushed migrants offshore the southeast states and "slingshotted" them north to New England. Some of the birds that were seen were migrants that had left the area a month prior on their southbound migration, and some were southern species that are only seen this far north during such weather events in the fall and as "southern overshoots" in the spring.
As color drains from the landscape and browns and grays begin to dominate, it is beyond exciting to see a pop of color in a thicket in the form of the glowing breast of an elusive Yellow-breasted Chat or a late warbler. Such is the excitement of November birding. Songbird migration for the most part is slowing down as waterfowl migration ramps up, and rare birds linger in the thickets if only you are lucky enough to find them. Nomadic winter finches inject an amount of uncertainty into every morning (though we may not see more than Red Crossbills this year). It is an in-between time, when the fall and winter migrations of birds collide.
Little Blue Heron in the state during the spring and summer months.
The ferry (www.prudencebayislandstransport.com) is still inexpensive at $13 round trip with a bicycle and the schedule is very birder-friendly with a 5:45am option often available.
With the first highlight of the day already achieved, we made our way north to the neck with hopes of a morning flight. Stopping briefly at a marshy patch we tried to entice out a Virginia Rail but soon realized the stiff Northeast breeze was putting a damper on our attempt. As soon as we came within view of Nag Pond it was evident that the full moon high tide had flooded the entire marsh and was only just beginning to recede. Several small groups of Canada Geese and American Black Ducks fed out in the saltmarsh of the pond, and as we stopped to scan the waterfowl we noticed a few songbirds in the marsh elder and bordering cedar tree. One was a surprise Blackpoll Warbler which have been very scarce this fall, and another was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet which popped out of the shrubs and into the cedar tree only a few from Andy. It started preening and put on a good show with the brilliant red crown extremely visible as it contorted its tiny body into odd positions. A harsh call alerted us to a Wilson's Snipe whizzing overhead, presumably having a hard time finding a place to land in the waterlogged marsh. One of my targets for the day was Nelson's Sparrow, and so I was eager to walk the edge of the marsh with such a high tide. I figured it would be a fairly easy species to find here even at this somewhat late date, given the healthy breeding populations of Saltmarsh Sparrows during the summer. However, upon pushing through the bordering elder, I realized the water was still too high for my not very waterproof hiking boots. Figuring I could try again later, we moved up to the neck itself. A calling Hairy Woodpecker was nice to hear and gave us a surprise as it jumped the gap northbound, not a species I see often in prolonged flight. A Yellow-rumped Warbler and a couple Blue Jays added to the flight but that was about it before we decided to hit some thickets near Chase Way. A Marsh Wren calling from some phragmites was a nice addition to the list. We pulled out some more Ruby-crowned Kinglets, White-throated Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos, but nothing unexpected or particularly exciting. We walked the back of the beach where it borders the marsh but didn't have much other than a Black-bellied Plover and some distant White-winged Scoters and Horned Grebes.
After this success we decided to head south along the west (sheltered) side of the island. We didn't find much until we stopped for a lunch break at Farnham Farm. Our second Yellow-bellied Sapsucker called, an Eastern Phoebe and several Eastern Bluebirds sallied out for insects, and some raptors soared overhead. Two Turkey Vultures and a Red-tailed Hawk were joined by a distant buteo that initially had us confused. It turned out to be an adult Red-shouldered Hawk, barely showing the pale crescents at the base of the outer primaries that usually make for an easy ID. In the overcast conditions it looked nearly black at the altitude it was maintaining.
We enjoyed the comical aspect of the two goats at the farm and their strange rectangular pupils, fed them our apple cores and were on our way. The thickets and fields around the NBNERR headquarters were rather devoid of birds, though picking up two very distant soaring Black Vultures was a nice find. We birded the road down to the T wharf and back finding a few more raptors, slowly made our way over to the east side of the island and hit a nice pocket of birds just before we left the south reserve boundary. Among a plethora of "feeder birds" we found two Eastern Towhees, two more Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, a Hermit Thrush, and one of the biggest surprises of the day, a late Red-eyed Vireo. Our last few stops produced some Field Sparrows, a flock of Laughing Gulls, and a last ditch attempt to get our Song Sparrow count above fifty to trip our 10th eBird filter of the day.