Waterbirds on the move in the eastern US and Canada

Andrew Farnsworth The Cornell Lab Oct 15, 2021

With a two significant (>400 million birds!) flights predicted for the coming nights, and the autumn passing quickly, many of you are probably eager to spend quality time outdoors birding. For those of you in the eastern US and Canada, one aspect that will complement the weekend and early work week nocturnal flights (that you probably won’t be able to see directly) will be diurnal flights of continuing nocturnal migrants as well as many species that typically fly during daylight hours (that you probably will be able to see directly!). Many species of waterbirds generally compose these diurnal flights in October and will be on the move in the coming days and weeks.

Of particular interest to those in the Northeast this weekend and early next week will be Brant and their first major autumn movements – the forecast from Windy.com, below, for winds ~2,500 feet above the ground (a useful variable as a proxy for favorable conditions) shows that winds between the southern reaches of Hudson Bay and environs and the Atlantic coast will be increasingly favorable for this species to “jump” south from its Arctic haunts and staging areas to Atlantic coastal locations. The frontal passage forecast for late Sunday and early Monday is very similar to patterns from previous years (search October dates by year here) with large Brant flights (check out this observation from 2012, 2018, 2019, 2020). For those out in the northeastern US, keep an eye skyward for large, amorphous flocks of these geese as they speed toward the Atlantic.

Additionally, note the patterns of wind circulating in the North Atlantic. The intensity of the low pressure system spawning these winds and the location of their circulation in this region highlight some potential for some European and High Arctic species to make their ways into northeastern North America. Iceland’s recent history of European species is impressive (as well as North American species!), and perhaps conditions will allow for some of these vagrants to make their ways farther west.