Saturday, May 24, 2014

Still Some Migration Going On

   I am up late hoping to see the meteor shower predicted for tonight and thought I check radar to get a feel for how migration is going.
  Looks like the majority of movement is in the upper Mississippi River Valley. With the heavy radar returns in Iowa, I'm hoping those birds will be landing in my area in about 3-4 hours. The woods were pretty quiet today (now yesterday) but I'm holding out hope for the morning.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Great Spring Weekend

    This past weekend was what banders dream of when they're sitting inside their house on a cold winter day staring at snowdrifts. A huge migratory movement in the past few days put birds everywhere during our two banding sessions. I believe we could have stretched a mist net across the parking lot and captured some great birds. I have included some photos and at the end of this post I will put a complete list of what we handled. You know it's a good time when your most common capture is Ovenbirds!
   Wrens have finally started to fill the air with their bubbly song. Still haven't seen Marsh or Sedge Wrens in numbers yet.

   One of 2 Harris's Sparrow we handled. Not a bird we see every year and certainly not one we band regularly.

   Female Black and White Warbler. Notice the pale cheeks.

     A real treat was to band this Golden-winged Warbler. In Minnesota we have a special place in our hearts for this species. Minnesota is home to more GWWAs than anywhere else in the country. I believe we have 40% of the world's population breeding here.

Species from Saturday and Sunday

Wilson's Warbler 
Tennessee Warbler
Magnolia Warbler   
Golden-winged Warbler
American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat
Orange-crowned Warbler
Black-capped Chickadee (recapture from Oct. 2013)
Blackpoll Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler  
Yellow Warbler
Least Flycatcher
Black&White Warbler
Western Palm Warbler
Lincoln Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Swainson's Thrush
Harris's Sparrow
Gray Catbird
Northern Cardinal

21 species for the weekend. I think I need a nap.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Wind Map Helps Explain Migration Pattern

   Checking the weather radar tonight I see that migration is pretty heavy in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana even with a line of storms just to the north of Oklahoma. Here's what the image looks like:
   A comparison of this image to the current wind patterns shown on a national wind map might explain why so much more movement in Texas than in Florida, Georgia, etc. Check this out:
   Notice the strong winds moving up through Texas but also how very calm it is in the southeastern U.S.. This is a really good illustration of how favorable winds help move birds along on their long journey. When trying to predict where the heavy movement will occur, looking at the wind map may be another way to anticipate hot spots. The animated wind map can be found at:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Warblers in Waves

    In spite of the late spring, the continuing cool, wet weather and a general lack of activity in my backyard, it looks like things are picking up. In the past week there have been waves of migrants moving through the upper midwest. I took that as a sign to get out and put up some nets to see what I could band. I was not disappointed.
   The variety of warblers was interesting. There are lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers around but I also saw Blackburnian Warblers which I think of as arriving later. The Ovenbird above was on of 2 I banded on Sunday morning. Many calls of "Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!" in the surrounding woods.

    American Redstarts were present in good numbers and gave that harsh call of theirs almost continually. For a bird of just 2 colors they sure are beautiful.
    My favorite of the day was the Magnolia Warbler. I can't think of a more strikingly gorgeous species. I spied on foraging in a small pine tree and those colors against the green background made the Magnolia really stand out.
    When I see Yellow-rumps I know I should also be looking for Palm Warblers. Most of the Palms I saw were typically feeding on or near the ground. Easy to ID based on the constant pumping of their tails. There is an eastern subspecies that is a much brighter yellow but what we get here in Minnesota is the "Western" Palm Warbler. I've only handled one eastern form and it was stunning in it's brightness.

   Everyday brings new birds to the backyard so keep on looking!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A Couple More Birds From Last Weekend

   As all birders know, May in the midwest is truly the time when what you see can change from day to day. Last Sunday we held a banding program and had a few "good" birds like this White-throated Sparrow:
    There were a couple of nice ducks still hanging around Crex Meadows when I was there chasing the Garganey including:
a pair of Northern Shovelers out on a windy lake. These birds will probably move a bit farther north to breed but many of the Blue-winged Teal I saw will stay at Crex and nest. Here's a nice shot of a pair in a small roadside pond.
   While I enjoy the early migrants, it's the neotropical migrants that I really anticipate and yesterday was the day! It seemed like someone had opened a floodgate and everything showed up at once. I added 18 FOY (first of the year) species in one afternoon including 10 species of warblers.
   Storms today will probably hold birds here for a couple of days so the weekend looks promising. Time to put up with some "warbler neck" for a week or two.
   I hope your area is seeing good birds too.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Chasing the Garganey

     Over a year there are lots of unusual birds that show up in unusual places but not being independently wealthy or certifiably nuts, I don"t usually chase the rarity unless it is close to my home. On Saturday the skies were clearing, the temps were rising and the rest of my family was otherwise engaged so I decided I would drive up to see the Garganey that has appeared at Crex Meadows near Grantsburg, Wisconsin.

    I have spent lots of time at Crex during college and grad school but hadn't been there for a while. It seemed reasonable that a visit was due. 95 miles later I'm sitting along a roadside ditch looking at a bird that should be in Siberia not Wisconsin. Pretty cool!
    Most of the waterfowl that use Crex for a migration stopover have moved on but there were some Ring-necked Ducks, Northern Shovelers and Blue-winged Teal still around. The Garganey hangs out with the teal mostly. This shot was from a roadside ditch that held a variety of ducks. The traffic and commotion kept the birds moving and eventually they took off and headed to a larger body of water across the refuge road.
    As the sun went down the air took on a chill that told me it was time to head home. I wonder if the Garganey will leave soon or stay the summer. If you haven't gone to see it and live what you consider a reasonable distance away, I would definitely chase Wisconsin's first record Garganey.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Bookend Migration

     While I'm sitting in Minnesota suffering through this brutally lousy weather and seeing few birds, the situation on the coasts is different. In Florida the panhandle got blasted with rain and flooding but now that the storm front has passed the migration has picked up again.
      The radar returns from the southern end of Florida show birds arriving after probably making the jump from Cuba this morning. The returns in central Florida are likely birds continuing to move north behind the storm.
    The other part of the country seeing good movement this morning appears to be the west coast from central California up through the Pacific Northwest. The central valley in California has shown lots of radar activity for a few days now. The rest of the country is much more quiet. Any birds that moved last night have probably landed so just keep checking the backyard.
   The Garganey that showed up at Crex Meadows in Wisconsin is still hanging out. When the weather breaks it will be interesting to see if it moves on.