Weather and Songbird Migration: March 15, 2012
Dr. David Aborn, ornithologist
Dr. David Aborn

Dear Students:

I apologize for my report being late, but the past few days I have been on the South Carolina coast with my Ornithology class. Ornithology is the study of birds, and every couple of years I have the good fortune to teach it here at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. When I do teach it, I always like to take the students down to the SC coast over part of their spring break to see birds we don't get here in Tennessee. It is a really good experience for them and they learn a lot and have a good time. (Yes, it is possible to do both!)

A Good Birding Trip!
We went to Huntington Beach State Park (probably the best birding spot in all of SC), Francis Beidler Forest (an Audubon Sanctuary that is the largest tract of old growth cypress and tupelo gum in the US; some of the trees are around 1,000 years old!!!), and the Belle W. Baruch Coastal Research Institute.

The weather was great — sunny and warm. Warm temperatures mean southerly winds, and you know what clear skies and southerly winds means—good flying weather for migrants! Several species of migrants were among the 84 species of birds we saw on the trip. At Francis Beidler Forest, the trees were filled with Northern Parulas. There were also quite a few Yellow-throated Warblers, and 2 Black-and-white warblers. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were plentiful everywhere we went. At the forest and at the institute we saw a couple of Blue-headed Vireos and White-eyed Vireos. White-eyed Vireos have also shown up in Alabama, and Black-and-white Warblers have been seen in Mississippi. While I was away, a couple of Louisiana Waterthrushes were seen here in Tennessee.

Southerly Winds Boosted Progress North
The southerly winds have allowed migrants to make some progress northward, as Tree Swallows have returned to West Virginia and New Hampshire, while Purple Martins and Black-and-white Warblers have arrived in Oklahoma. Migration has been busy out west as well, with Wilson's Warblers, Warbling Vireos, Plumbous Vireos, Cliff Swallows, Western Kingbirds, and Bullock's Orioles all showing up in California.

What Can We Expect This Week?
So let's look at this week's weather map and see what we can expect:

  • A front is dropping down from the Dakotas but it's a weak one. It may bring some rain, but no strong north winds are behind it so migrants should not be greatly affected.
  • Once the rain clears, migrants should have good flying conditions, and birders across the country should expect more arrivals.

The Cure
Spring is definitely here, and there is nothing that cures spring fever like birdwatching!

Take Care.

David Aborn
North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy
Chattanooga, TN