Thursday, May 25, 2017

How Was Your Spring Migration?

Thursday, May 25, 2017
Taking a respite from posting all my content, quips, and thoughts to the immediate-gratification machines of the social media channels, I thought I'd add a pithy question here on the dusty old Bill of the Birds blog.

Male cerulean warbler.

So...How was spring migration in your area?

I'm hearing that the spectacle of migration was quite unimpressive in many parts of the eastern half of the United States. I was at Magee Marsh in northwestern Ohio from May 10 to 14—which normally would be at or near the peak of spring songbird migration. My experience was one of "more people than birds," which is unusual for that spot at that season. Even at my farm in southeastern Ohio the migration seemed to be in dribs and drabs with no single day standing out as impressive or amazing.

All of this begs the question: Is this our new subdued migration reality? Have we reached (or passed) some sort of songbird-population tipping point where numbers of warblers, thrushes, tanager, orioles, vireos, etc, have crashed? In other words, are we experiencing "Silent Spring?"

Or, is this spring an anomaly, affected by weather, foliage development, insect hatches, etc?

I'd love to hear how the migration was in your region. Please use the comments section here, or comment on the inevitable Facebook and Twitter posts for this blog topic.

In an upcoming episode of our Out There With the Birds podcast, Ben Lizdas interviews several avid birders about the spring migration of 2017. Tune in to find out what they say.

Male prairie warbler.


On May 25, 2017 at 12:40 PM Tim said...

In Baltimore, we had some nice days at the end of April that seemed like they were leading into a very warbler-filled May, and then everything just...stopped. If my understanding of weather vs. migration is correct, strong north winds pushed the birds back, and then a few days of very clear skies and south winds sent everything right over us. I only had ONE good warbler morning in Baltimore this May. I normally have Wilson's Warbler and Lincoln's Sparrow in the county a few times each May - none this year. Several other species of migrants appeared on fewer checklists than they have in the past.

I checked eBird for my favorite species. The data support my opinion, especially the very slow start this year. There was finally a bit of a push towards the third week:

Another one that seemed unusually absent:

Note how amazing 2016 was for both. Lots of misty and rainy days "held" the birds here last year.

The breeders that arrived before the weather shifted unfavorably appear to be doing fine. One example:

I'm sure there are plenty of other factors at play, but I blame the strong north winds and clear skies above all else for this extremely frustrating and "blah" spring in Baltimore.

On May 25, 2017 at 6:58 PM paul shaw said...

We have all had a similar experience with bird migration this spring: high hopes in April (and late March) with lots of really arrivals, waves of migrants and then the turn around in weather the first weeks of May. As I understand it, this shift in weather is/maybe a rebound result of the El Nino phenomena which occurred the past two years; this year's migration was much like 2016 and so were the weather patterns. We are still experiencing waves of migrants in southern West Virginia, leaving me to believe the birds know best when to move.

Just before leaving Cape a few days ago, small pods of migrants were still being seen, including Canada Warblers, which were already on nesting territories here in West Virginia in late April . In reference to Tim's commentary above, I was fortunate to see more Wilson's Warblers in Fayette County WV this year than ever before; one among a grouping of neotropical migrants which held a Least Flycatcher, one Summer Tanager, two Bay-breasted Warblers and a host of Yellow-rumped Warblers. And the butter butts are still here!

As an aside from these thoughts, several years ago we experienced a marked crash in Wood Thrushes during nesting seasons in two consecutive years. Then they returned to a "normal" presences the third year. That year gave me hope that "The Silent Spring" could not be muted. Nonetheless, years like this give cause for a pause, as it truly could be such that Ms Carson was right and we may be experiencing the slow and painful truth of the demise of migratory birds.

Yet whether you are a gardener, a fisherman or a birder, it's hard to fight a north wind and bucket loads of rain. So the wonders of migration will remain mysterious and tomorrow another day of birding southern WV.

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