Well, it has finally happened...a MAJOR fallout! Over the weekend a low
pressure area developed around west Texas. This was mainly a rain event,
so once it passed there really weren't any strong winds to keep birds grounded
for very long. Thus, the rain forced birds to land and then they could
take off again in large numbers. Because we are around the peak of spring
migration along the Gulf Coast, the numbers of birds being seen the last
couple of days has been staggering. One researcher at the Gulf Coast Bird
Observatory on High Island, TX said it was the largest movement of birds
in recent memory.
Before that storm system developed, winds had been southerly, and
skies had been clear, which allowed many of last week's migrants
to make a lot of progress north. In a previous report I mentioned Frozen
Head State Park in northeast Tennessee. Well, it proved to be a good
spot this week, with 46 Blue-headed Vireos, 81 Black-throated-green Warblers,
and 29 Ovenbirds
seen. Birders in Washington, DC had their first Northern Parulas, Black-throated-green
Warblers, Yellow-throated Warblers, Black-and-white Warblers, Worm-eating
Warblers, and Ovenbirds. Some places very far north are starting to see
the first migrants trickle in, with an early Rose-breasted Grosbeak in
New Hampshire, the first Chimney Swifts arriving in Wisconsin, and House Wren
showing up in Michigan and Minnesota.
While that storm system developed too far to the east to give the western
US a fallout, a lot of birds were still on the move. Birders in California
reported large numbers of Yellow Warblers, Lazuli Buntings, and both
Blue and Black-headed Grosbeaks. The south winds also helped push migrants
into the Northwest, with Washington seeing swallows, Common Yellowthroats,
Wilson's Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and
a lone Black-throated-gray Warbler.
Does This Week’s Weather Mean for Migration?
The coming week could be another good one:
A strong cold front is starting to move across the
country. That, combined with the fact that migration is peaking in
the southern US means there could be some more good fallouts along
the Gulf Coast by the end of the week, and in the eastern US by the
out west could be seeing birds landing today, as there is rain over
much of the West Coast right now.
Once the system clears out and winds shift to the
south a couple of days later, people in the northerly parts of the
US should start looking for new arrivals.
are very impressive to see, so get out there and be a part of it!
How Do Researchers Know How Many Birds Are Around?
We have several ways we can see how many birds are around. Aside from
just going out with binoculars and looking and counting, we can capture
birds in special nets, and we can also use our ears and radar.
Mist Nets: Captures
I and many other researchers who study migration use special nets called
mist nets. These are soft fabric nets that are hard for the birds to
see. The birds fly into them unhurt, and then researchers gently take
them out, put US Fish and Wildlife Service identification bands on their
legs, examine their health, and let them go. The person I studied under
has a study site at Johnson's Bayou in southwestern Louisiana. He reported
to me that April 20 they captured over 500 birds!!!! That is an incredible
number! During my Ph.D research, we had some days where we caught between
200 and 300 birds, and that was just insanely busy. They must have been
totally up to their eyeballs in migrants!
Radar: “Seeing” Migration at Night
Many songbirds migrate at night because 1) the air is less turbulent,
2) there aren't as many predators around, and 3) they can use the stars
to help them find there way. Many migrants fly in flocks and they call
to help keep in contact with the flock. On a night with a lot of migration
going on, you can actually hear their calls. Someone listening to these
calls in Houston, TX Monday night reported hearing between 60 and 180
calls per minute!!! The majority of those calls were from thrushes, Indigo
Buntings, and tanagers. Flocks of migrants can also be picked up on National
Weather Service radar; the same ones you see on your local news every
is a loop from radar stations across Texas from last night (April
20) to show birds taking off shortly after sunset. All that green and
yellow you see is not rain; those are birds resuming their migration!
Chickamauga Creek Conservancy