Weather and Songbird Migration: May 1, 2013
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Dear Journey North,
Well, it has been another spectacular week. The front I mentioned last week dropped down from the Great Plains and did indeed bring LOTS of rain to much of the country (we had 3.5” over the weekend here in Chattanooga). All that rain made for yet another spectacular fallout along the Gulf Coast, especially Texas. A fellow ornithologist and friend of mine described it as “one of the most amazing weeks on the coast in recent memory,” especially at South Padre Island. There, volunteers begged for people to bring bags of oranges, meal worms, and bird seed to get thousands of totally exhausted migrants—like these Baltimore Orioles—through until weather conditions improved and they could resume migration.

Remarkable Events
Three consecutive weeks of large fallouts has not been seen for some time! The week's many remarkable events included at least two "Chimney Swift trees" like the one in the photo, in which thousands of swifts packed so tightly onto the sheltered side of tree trunks to thermoregulate that the trunk is obscured!  

Bird Migration and Weather on Radar
Recall that my last report included a radar image showing birds arriving along the coast just as the rain was hitting. This week I have included a larger image showing the entire Gulf Coast packed with birds on Saturday, April 27th. Look: Can you tell the birds from the rain?

Once that front passed, the weak winds behind it quickly shifted to the south. All those migrants could now flood northward, as shown in the radar image from April 30th. Look: All those blue and green circular areas are birds taking off.

Record Numbers
Most of the birds seen along the Gulf Coast during this fallout were the various thrushes (Wood Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and Veery), Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and orioles (Baltimore and Orchard). One person in Baton Rouge, Louisiana tallied 325 grosbeaks, 325 Veerys, 130 Swainson’s Thrushes, and 130 Gray-cheeked Thrushes!

Influx of Migrants: Welcome to Spring!
At my study site the past few days, the trees have been dripping with Blackpoll Warblers, Tennessee Warblers, and Veerys, as well as good numbers of the other thrushes and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Birders from many of the northern states have been reporting many first sightings of the spring, including Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Orioles in Michigan and Wisconsin, and Summer Tanagers, Nashville Warblers, Tennessee Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, and Black-and-white Warblers in Minnesota. Western Kingbirds, Yellow Warblers, and Orange-crowned Warblers arrived in South Dakota, while their neighbor to the north (North Dakota) recorded their first Tree Swallows and Purple Martins. People out west have also enjoyed a large influx of migrants, especially in Arizona. White-throated Swifts, Western Wood-Pewees, Dusky Flycatchers, Hammond’s Flycatchers, Cassin’s, Warbling, and Hutton’s Vireos, Orange-crowned, Nashville, Wilson’s, Black-throated-gray, Townsend’s, and Virginia’s Warblers, and Lazuli Buntings. A very nice assortment indeed! As in the east, southerly winds have pushed many migrants north, with the first Wilson’s Warblers, MacGillivray’s Warblers, Western Kingbirds, Olive-sided Fylcatchers, Hammond’s Flycatchers, and Swainson’s Thrushes being seen in Oregon, and Black-headed Grosbeaks, Wilson’s, Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned, and Nashville Warblers arriving in Washington. Even Alaska got in on the fun, with the first Varied Thrush arriving there! Welcome to spring!

Dr. David Aborn, ornithologist
Photo: David Aborn
Dr. David Aborn
Baltimore Orioles feasting on oranges.t
Photo: TX Parks & Wildlife
Hungry and Tired
Chimney Swifts cover tree trunk as they huddle for warmth.
Photo: Sylvia Garcia-Smith
Huddling for Warmth
Blackpoll Warbler
Photo: David Aborn
Blackpoll Warbler
Veery, banded for release
Photo: David Aborn
Poster for 2013 International Migratory Bird Day
Art: Barry Kent MacKay
International Migratory Bird Day: May 11
Weather Map: The Outlook
Will the fallout trend continue into the coming week? As this is my last report of the season, it is your last chance to read the weather map with my help; then you are on your own! I am not worried, however. You are all pros by this point!

Weather map 4/17/13
  • You notice this week’s map looks similar to last week’s, with a front moving across the center of the country and approaching the Gulf Coast. This front does not have nearly as much rain with it, however; so, while birds will be forced to land, I don’t think it will be a spectacular as it has been.
  • Once the front passes, the winds behind it are not strong, so migrants should be able to get on their way pretty quickly. By the weekend, the rain will arrive in the eastern US, forcing those birds to land for a day or two. Out west, I don’t see much to slow migrants down, so there should be a steady stream of birds all week long.

More Ahead!
There are still a few more weeks of spring migration left in the southern US, while farther north you will still have birds arriving into June, so keep watching the weather and see when you might expect birds to arrive! Even when migration is over, you will still be able to enjoy all those birds throughout the summer, until they do it all over again on their way south!

Signing Off
I hope you have enjoyed reading my reports as much as I have enjoyed writing them. If you have any questions about my reports or about bird migration, feel free to ask. Take care and have a great Summer!

David Aborn
North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy
Chattanooga, TN

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