A Northern Lapwing discovered at Shoal Point, Port-au-Port Peninsula in Newfoundland on 25 Nov 2021 turned out to be the harbinger of a lapwing invasion, as over the course of the winter and spring, quite a few more of these striking Palearctic plovers were found in the ABA Area, delighting local birders wherever they appeared. By Mar 2022, there were at least 14 reports of the species from 10 eastern states and provinces spanning Newfoundland and Labrador to Virginia. The majority occurred in Dec 2021, but a few appeared in mid- to late Mar 2022.
Northern Lapwing’s usual range encompasses much of the Palearctic. The species is resident in some areas of Western Europe, and its breeding range extends east through Scandinavia and Eastern Europe to Siberia, Central Asia, and northeastern China. It winters from Ireland and Great Britain to the Iberian Peninsula, Southern Europe, North Africa, northern India, southern China, Korea, and Japan. Its typical migration routes do not necessitate long-distance overwater flights. So how do a dozen or so Northern Lapwings end up 2000 miles (3200 km) out of range across the North Atlantic?
Figure 1. This map shows wind direction about 2625 ft (800m) above sea level over the North Atlantic on 23 Nov 2021. Note the easterly flow from southern England and France to Newfoundland. Map generated with NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory data by Steven B. Feldstein.
In the North Atlantic, wind usually flows west to east, an effect of the usual relationship between pressure systems over Iceland and the Azores. Air pressure is usually low over the former and high over the latter. Low pressure creates counterclockwise winds and high pressure, clockwise winds. The relationship between the pressure systems over Iceland and the Azores is referred to as the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and dominates weather patterns over the North Atlantic. When the NAO is in its positive phase, as is usually the case, opposing air currents over Iceland and the Azores form westerly winds across the North Atlantic. However, on 23 Nov 2021, two days before the discovery of the Northern Lapwing at Port-au-Port Peninsula in Newfoundland, an area of low pressure developed over the Azores, tipping the NAO into a negative phase and producing easterly winds over the North Atlantic.
Figure 2. This map shows an area of low pressure at sea level around the Azores. A negative-phase North Atlantic Oscillation of high amplitude creates easterlies across the North Atlantic and is thus a good predictor of Palearctic vagrants. Map generated with NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory data by Steven B. Feldstein.
During severe winters in Europe, Northern Lapwings head southwest to southern England and Ireland, where the Gulf Stream normally delivers milder weather. Lapwings in the ABA Area probably overshot Ireland on 23 Nov 2021, encountering the easterlies depicted in Figure 1, and rode them across the North Atlantic. The species’s periodic invasions into the ABA Area are likely all associated with a similar weather pattern (negative-phase, high amplitude NAO) as those observed on 23 Nov 2021. Those interested in predicting Palearctic vagrants can keep tabs on the NAO forecast here.
Figure 3. ABA Area records of Northern Lapwing, 2021−2022.
25 Nov–2 Dec 2021
29 Nov 2021
Port Hope Simpson
Labrador-Happy Valley-Goose Bay
3 Dec 2021
Anse aux Baleiniers
8 Dec 2021
Near Crockett Cove
10–18 Dec 2021
Sable Island NP
16 Dec 2021
18 Dec 2021
Bergen Point Golf Course area
21 Dec 2021–
4 Mar 2022
21 Dec 2021–
2 Jan 2022
Salem and Cumberland
8−11 Jan 2022
Virginia Beach area
6 Mar 2022
7−9 Mar 2022
14 Mar 2022
20−21 Mar 2022
*There is evidence of multiple historical Maine records from the 1927 invasion, but these are treated as theoretical.
Note: Multiple records may pertain to the same individual bird; for example, the bird photographed on 6 Mar 2022 in Greenwich, Cumberland Co, New Jersey was likely the same bird first found nearby in Dec 2021.
Northern Lapwing has appeared in the ABA Area as far west as Ohio and as far south as Florida. Unsurprisingly, Newfoundland and Labrador boasts more records of the species than any other state or province. Newfoundland lies along the same latitude as Ireland and hosts Northern Lapwing about annually in fall and winter.
The most recent ABA Area Northern Lapwing invasion occurred in 2012–2013, when the species was found from Newfoundland to Georgia and Bermuda, sometimes in multiples (with high counts of three together in Ocean Co, New Jersey, and two in Suffolk Co, New York and Nantucket, Massachusetts). The current invasion is not quite as extensive as the last one. Other invasions took place in 1996–1998, Jan 1966, and Dec 1927. The latter consisted of a huge influx of hundreds of birds into Newfoundland and many others throughout coastal Canada, west to Québec, and south to Maine.
Howell, Steve N. G., Ian Lewington, and Will Russell. 2014. Rare Birds of North America. Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford.
No stranger to ABA publications, Amy Davis has served as Sightings department editor at Birding and technical reviewer at Birder’s Guide. She was also photo editor for Pennsylvania Birds. Amy loves citizen science and volunteered extensively for breeding bird atlases in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia. She resides in Forked River, NJ, and recently broke her home county’s big year record. When she’s not birding the Barnegat Bay, Amy studies nursing and plays classical piano.
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