Spring Gains Ground, New Songbirds Arrive

March 14, 2018 by Julie Brophy

Though winter's trying to hang on, new songbird arrivals signal that spring will soon be here!

The first Yellow-throated warbler was reported in Arkansas. Photo: Kenneth Cole Schneider

Weather and Songbird Migration News: March 14, 2018

Dear Journey North,

The official start of spring is next week, and even though winter is still hanging in there, there are signs that spring will soon be here! One of those indications is the continued arrival of migrants from the tropics. Last week I mentioned that a pair of storm systems in the eastern U.S. would make for poor flying conditions for several days. Over the weekend, the weather improved, and a few new migrants showed up.

New Songbirds in the Gulf States
The first Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Black-and-white Warblers arrived in Texas and Mississippi, a Baltimore Oriole showed up in Louisiana, and the first report of a Yellow-throated Warbler came from Arkansas.

Hummers and More Arrive in the West
I also mentioned last week that conditions out west were much better, and I expected to see a lot more arrivals, and that is what happened. Hummingbirds were particularly numerous, with multiple reports of Black-chinned, Anna’s, Costa’s, and Rufus Hummingbirds from Arizona and California. Birders in California also reported Western Kingbirds, Plumbeous Vireos, and more Wilson’s Warblers.

Flip-Flop Forecast
This week looks like a flip-flop of last week, with good weather in the east and poor conditions in the west. If you look at the weather map you can see the nor’easter in the northeast (duh!), which is bringing very bad weather to that area, but most of the eastern U.S. has clear skies and southerly winds. That will allow more birds to arrive from the tropics.

Out west, however, there is a storm system that is coming off the Pacific Ocean, and it is bringing lots of rain to the west coast. That is going to keep migrants grounded for a few days. As that storm system moves east, it will spread rain to the Midwest by the end of the week and the east by the weekend. Some of those arrivals I just mentioned had better get moving or they will be stuck until next week! By the time the system reaches the Midwest, skies will have cleared out west and winds will become southerly, so more migrants should arrive out there by the weekend.

Bright Yellow Robes
As part of my Year of the Bird features, I want to talk about one of the migrants I expect to show up soon, the Prothonotary Warbler, which can be found in the swamps and bottom lands of the southeastern U.S. They are a gorgeous warbler, and they get their unusual name from their bright yellow color, which reminded early European settlers of the bright yellow robes worn by papal clerks, who were known as prothonotaries. These warblers are also one of only two species of warbler that nests in tree cavities; the other species is Lucy’s Warbler, which breeds in the western U.S. Unfortunately, loss of habitat is causing Prothonotaries to decline rapidly (down 40% over the past 50 years), and researchers are working hard to understand more about this species so we can manage their populations effectively.

Take care,

David Aborn, Ornithologist
North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy
Chattanooga, TN