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Weather and Songbird Migration

Dr. David Aborn

April 26, 2006

Dear Students:
If you were hoping to see migrants, this was a great week for you! Last week I mentioned that a front was moving across the country and, while the winds behind it were not strong, the front would bring more rain. Well, I was correct in those statements, but what I did not foresee happening was how slowly the front moved when it reached the eastern US. Not only did it bring rain, but it rained for days.
For example, here in Tennessee it rained for a good part of April 19, 20, and 21. You should know by now that rain means migrants will be forced to land, and they certainly did that!

Last Week's Fallouts Brought Bird Sightings Galore
Probably the biggest fallout from this system occurred on April 19th in Washington, DC, where they reported 25 species of warblers!!!!! They also had Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and reported the first Veery sighting I have heard about this year. People in Pennsylvania also reported fallout with many warblers, Gray Catbirds, and Orchard Orioles. Here in Tennessee, reports came in from all over the state of a good diversity of migrants. A total of 17 warbler species have been seen, including the first Blackpoll Warblers, Cape May Warblers, Bay-breasted Warblers, and Blackburnian Warblers. There were also lots of Scarlet Tanagers, and the first Warbling Vireos and Swainson's Thrushes of the year. Tennessee Warblers were common at my study site, along with Hooded Warblers, Indigo Buntings, and Wood Thrushes. The story was the same from many other places. Iowa had 8 warbler species and lots of hummingbirds, grosbeaks, and tanagers; Minnesota and New Hampshire had gnatcatchers, swallows, Palm Warblers, and Orange-crowned Warblers...Well, you get the idea.

While we were getting wet in the East, the Southwest had clear conditions and southerly winds. This allowed many migrants to come up from the tropics. On April 20, birders in New Mexico saw catbirds, Nashville Warblers, Black-and-white Warblers, Painted Redstarts, Indigo Buntings, and Scott's Orioles. California also had a good diversity, with Western Kingbirds, Olive-sided Flycatchers, Western Tanagers, Black-throated-gray Warblers, Wilson's Warblers, Orange-crowned Warblers, and Common Yellowthroats all being seen.

A BIG Fallout of New Arrivals!
But wait! Things didn't end there. A storm system similar to the one that just moved across the east formed over the middle of the country. Like the first system, it had lots of rain, along with slightly stronger north winds. On April 22, birders in Louisiana went to Grand Isle to look for a fallout after the rain passed. There wasn't much activity in the morning, when migrants usually arrive from crossing the Gulf of Mexico. At mid-day, however, things definitely changed. The rainy weather slowed the birds down so that it took them a couple of extra hours to reach the coast. Having to fight the headwinds made the birds exhausted and they landed in large numbers. Some of the more numerous species were: Yellow Warbler (35-40), Gray Catbird (35-40), Orchard Oriole (35-40), Eastern Kingbird (50-60), Yellow-billed Cuckoo (65-70), Scarlet Tanager (~125), Rose-breasted Grosbeak (~150), Indigo Bunting (~200). Not a bad day birding! Take it from me--a big fallout like that is really something to see!

It is truly amazing to realize the effort birds go through to take advantage of the abundance of insects we have during the summer.

This Week’s Weather and Migration Outlook
So will this week be just as exciting? Well, it could be.
  • Right now, the front that created the Gulf coast fallout is moving slowly across the east. There is a lot of rain in the Southeast, and northerly winds around the Northeast and Midwest. That means there could be more fallouts, and any birds that have already landed will stick around for the next couple of days.
  • In the western US, winds are from the south and skies are clear, so they can expect another influx of birds to arrive.
  • Another front is dropping down from Canada. This is expected to bring more rain and cooler temperatures to the eastern half of the country by the end of this week and over the weekend.

We are at the peak of spring migration. Combine that with the weather conditions and we could see some more spectacular birding!

David Aborn
North Chickamauga Creek Conservancy
Chattanooga, TN

The Next Weather and Migration Update will Be Posted on May 3, 2006

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