Willard's Morning Flight - August 15 & 25, 2021

Last autumn I began to explore Hammonasset Beach State Park's Willard's Island as a potential "morning flight" hotspot. Results were encouraging over a handful of attempts. At the very least, the site seemed to be reliable for a modest flight given good migration conditions.

Thanks to a busy work/life schedule, my opportunities to hit Willard's for morning flight are few are far between. When you're talking about a six-week peak window, there aren't many chances to begin with. So I jumped on the opportunity to spend the morning of the 15th standing at the north tip of the tiny island, staring southward in hopes of some warblers migrating early in the season. A cold front had cleared the previous evening, which should have triggered movement overnight.

As I began the walk out at sunrise, there were a few audible American Redstarts and Yellow Warblers, so at least a few birds were on the move. I arrived at the morning flight site to find clear skies and a steady 7-10mph north wind, which would be as useful for producing birds as it would be for keeping mosquitoes at bay. These really seemed like ideal conditions.

There was a steady movement of northbound birds (mostly warblers, per usual here) from 0600 to 0630. There was a drop-off from 0630 to 0700, and eventually a slow trickle from 0700 to 0745, when I concluded the watch.

Overall, 157 warblers of 12 species (plus a single non-flying Common Yellowthroat) flew out, a result I was very pleased with for the date!

The walk back to the car was pretty slow, but did see another Worm-eating Warbler and a Yellow-throated Vireo in a small mixed flock.

Northern Waterthrush

Black-and-white Warbler


American Redstart (left) and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Yellow Warbler

American Redstart

Worm-eating Warbler

My next shot would come ten days later in less-than-optimal weather. In the midst of a heat wave behind Hurricane Henri, winds went light NW aloft the evening before and deadened to calm by daybreak. I still wanted to give it a shot in my attempt to get to know the place better. I arrived a bit late, getting to the north tip about 10 minutes after sunrise. I was really surprised to be greeted by a steady movement of warblers in action. I had a quick 50 birds within 15 minutes, so it was shaping up to be a really nice flight despite the dead calm wind, heat and humidity. But it ended as quickly as it started. That initial pulse quickly faded to a trickle, and the flight was completely over some 45 minutes later.

The final tally was 116 warblers of 6 species, plus Yellowthroat on the deck. Very little was found foraging on the walk back.

 - NB


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