November 13, 2015, will go down in the history books as the (first?) day of the epic 2015 Franklin’s Gull flight to the East Coast of the United States. Franklin’s Gull numbers have been above average in the East over the past week, with flocks in the great Lakes, and as unsettled wet and rainy weather Wednesday and Thursday gave way to clear skies and strong West or Northwest winds overnight astute observers up and down the East Coast made sure to get out at dawn to bear witness. At Cape May, the flight began in the early morning and continued all day, with some flocks of 60+ being seen! The combined one-day total there was something like 315 birds. As the alert was raised more observers got out looking in time to find their own. Every coastal state from Massachusetts to Virginia was in on the action. It isn’t over yet! Go birding this weekend!
The eBird map is aflame with Franklin’s Gulls right now, as eBirders come home from their day and upload their photos and eBird editors busily verify well-documented records coming from all across the eastern half of the continent. Click around to see where they all have been.
So…what happened here? A strong storm swept across the upper midwest and Great Lakes on Wednesday, bringing with it lots of unsettled weather, raging winds at 50 mph or more in many places, and even a few tornadoes. BirdCast shows a nice animation with the storm and the winds for today (and its path out into the ocean over the coming days), revealing just how strong the winds were and how they provided a direct superhighway
Most of the birders that set an early alarm today did so hoping for a repeated of the 1998 Franklin’s Gull fallout. The situation was similar: a super-strong low pressure system brought howling hurricane force winds from the Great Lakes to the East Coast…and hundreds of Franklin’s with it. The timing was almost identical: 9-11 Nov 1998. Ned Brinkley provides a superb analysis of that system (and a couple hurricanes) in his Changing Seasons article, available for free online here. For those hoping to understand today’s invasion, this article is required reading: the overall picture is very similar.
One difference this time is the speed of information flow with eBird, abundant cell phones, active listservs, etc. The rapid spread of news around the Northeast surely led to dozens of Franklins being found if it were not for so many people sharing the news so quickly. Thanks to all who shared the news today!
Go birding this weekend! (and report to eBird, of course)
With continued Northwesterlies expected all weekend long there is every reason to expect many more Franklin’s to be found. These birds probably will move out quickly though. Franklin’s migrate from Canada to Chile, and don’t want to waste time. Many of these birds will rapidly get back on course and move south, so if you plan to look, don’t waste time. Most of the birds at Cape May were seen moving south in flocks, many right along the coast or a short distance offshore, many of the others have been found at dusk gull roosts, among flocks of Ring-billeds, Laughings, or Bonaparte’s sheltering in the lee of the wind. A few will probably linger, but this is one situation where going out birding yourself will be more fun, more rewarding, and maybe more successful than waiting for a bird to chase.
Eye candy from today
Check any state’s eBird Alerts to see where folks saw Franklin’s today–many with great photos. Special thanks to Tom Johnson for his great Franklin’s images that illustrate this article, all taken today in Cape May, NJ. Here are some other illustrated lists and highlights to check out.
Questions and other thoughts
Other birds to watch for
Any system this strong has the potential to displace other birds from the Midwest or West. Cape May had over 100 Cave Swallows today and scattered other Cave Swallows have been seen, so that is one obvious bird to watch for, as is true on any period of November southwesterlies (on the Great Lakes) followed by northwesterlies (on the East Coast). A Common Ground-Dove found today in Massachusetts was that state’s second and likely connected to this system. Townsend’s Solitaires have been popping up a lot, including one yesterday in Massachusetts and one today in Ohio that may well have been connected to this system. November systems like this often produce other interesting western species–Ash-throated Flycatcher, Townsend’s and MacGillivray’s Warbler, and Western Tanager are the more likely species on a long list of possibilities to hope for.
In short, this is a GREAT weekend to be out birding for North American birders from Ontario to Texas and especially in the East Coast states and provinces! Get out there and let us know what you see.
The images below capture more Franklin’s in a single image than have ever been seen over the Atlantic Ocean before!