FINAL Weather and Songbird Migration: May 2, 2012
Dr. David Aborn, ornithologist
Dr. David Aborn

Dear Students:

If you were a migrating bird this past week, you would have been pretty happy because flying conditions have generally been good, and you would have been able to get to your destination. If you were a birder this past week, you also would have been pretty happy because there have been lots of birds to see!

Gulf Coast to Maine: Places all over the country have been reporting a great assortment of migrants, and in some cases, large numbers as well. All along the Gulf Coast, the late-season migrants have been arriving. They include Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, Black-throated-blue, and Blackpoll Warblers, American Redstarts, Northern Waterthrushes, Swainson's Thrushes, Gray-cheeked Thrushes, and Veerys. At Dauphin Island on the Alabama coast, one birder also tallied 83 Yellow Warblers and 52 Eastern Kingbirds! A birding trip this weekend on Lookout Mountain here in Tennessee produced similar species, with 15 Blackpoll Warblers and 10 Cape May Warblers leading the way. At my study site on Friday, I saw my first Yellow Warbler and Blue Grosbeak of the season, and heard a Bay-breasted Warbler. This morning I banded my first Northern Waterthrush of the year. The southerly winds have again allowed many birds to make it pretty far north, with many redstarts and Baltimore Orioles showing up in Pennsylvania. Ovenbirds, Common Yellowthroats, Blackburnian Warblers, Blue-winged Warblers, Black-throated-green Warblers, Yellow Warblers, Gray Catbirds, orioles, and Wood Thrushes being seen all over Connecticut and Massachusetts. Last week I mentioned that I took part in a BioBlitz. Well, there was a BioBlitz at Green Mountain College in Vermont, and among the migrants they saw were Yellow Warblers, catbirds, and Warbling Vireos. Finally, Eastern Kingbirds and Summer Tanagers have made it up to Maine.

Midwest: Things were similar in the Midwest, with birders in Michigan reporting their first Blue-winged Warblers and Golden-winged Warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Baltimore Orioles, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Baltimore Orioles have also showed up in Minnesota.

Out West:
Birding was excellent in California. I did not see any significant storms over the state, but large numbers of migrants landed yesterday. I know that many places in California can see some pretty good fog, and that may have reduced visibility enough to force birds to land. Whatever the reason, it has been a great fallout by western standards (since birds don't have that difficult crossing over the gulf of Mexico, they are not as tired and bad weather doesn't force large numbers of exhausted birds to land). At the San Diego Botanical Garden, over 150 individual warblers were seen! At least 75 of them were Wilson's warblers, followed by Hermit Warblers, Townsend's Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, Black-throated-gray Warblers, Yellow Warblers, and Nashville Warblers. Places like Sacramento also reported good numbers of those species, along with some Western Tanagers and Black-headed Grosbeaks. What a treat for California birders! As in the east, southerly winds have helped birds make good progress, as evidenced by Wilson's Warblers and Lazuli Buntings arriving in Idaho, and good numbers of Black-headed Grosbeaks, Hammond's Flycatchers, Warbling and Cassin's Vireos in Oregon and Washington.

What Can We Expect This Week?
This coming week looks pretty similar to last week. Here's why:

  • A stationary front is draped over much of the country. The southern two-thirds of the US are experiencing very warm temperatures (it is 90 here in Tennessee!), which means more southerly winds to help birds along.
  • The northern third of the country is cooler, but there really isn't any rain to slow birds down (some is expected in the northwest tomorrow and Friday), so overall, migrants and birders alike should be happy again!
IMBD poster for 2012
International Migratory Bird Day

More Enjoyment Ahead
For people in the southern US, migration will be winding down in a week or two, but for people farther north, migration is peaking. Either way, you can still enjoy looking at and listening to the great variety of birds around, as they attract a mate, build their nests, and raise their young.

One good way to keep learning about migrants and how to protect them is to participate in International Migratory Bird Day, which is this Saturday (May 12th). There are all sorts of activities going on all across the country; including bird walks, banding demonstrations, lectures, and games. Visit the IMBD website to find out what is going on near you.

If you have any questions about bird migration, feel free to ask me.

Take care, and have a great summer!

David Aborn
North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy
Chattanooga, TN