The Variability of Spring Migration Timing

Having been following along with the way weather impacts the arrival of certain migrants for a number of years now, I want to take some time to compare the ways spring migration has progressed over the last seven years. For the sake of the amateur birders/nonbirders that follow this site, I will refrain from getting technical about weather. In the future, I hope to make another post on this subject using historical weather data, but for now I will stick with my broad qualitative observations.

2010 was really the first year that I fully grasped the fact that weather has a direct impact on the quantity and diversity of neotropical migrants seen on a given morning, thus making it a logical place to start. I was a very active birder in 2009 and before, and enjoyed warblers and others thoroughly, but don’t recall following the weather in order to ascertain the numbers of birds moving and to plan my outings.

Because 2010 was the first year I was doing this, it is the year I sometimes use to compare the others to. Back then, I was going through rigorous treatment (and even had a major surgery right in the heart of spring migration), so my birding outings were limited. What strikes me most about 2010 is that it was kind of ‘normal’ (obviously, this observation needs to be backed up with data, which I will hopefully be able to do soon). We had our first major push of birds in late April, with diversity peaking in the NYC region by the middle of May.

2011, by contrast, was marked by a surprisingly early and strong start (beginning in the second to last week of April), before giving way to unfavorable winds for the beginning of May. Things turned back around (as they always do) by the middle of the month, with Blackpoll Warblers descending on the Northeast en masse by around the 15th.

2012 was a lot like 2010. Migration progressed in a fairly even manner, with the first big days occurring during the first week of May. It was my most memorable year for observing spring migrants; I went birding after school virtually every day, and really got to appreciate the subtle (and not so subtle!) changes that occur daily during the height of spring migration.

2013 was at times frustrating. It got off to a strong start at the end of April (much like 2011), before giving way to almost a week of sustained easterly winds to start the month of May. That was followed by a nice rebound in warbler diversity, but for me, the birding didn’t approach that of 2012.

It think the result for 2014 is almost predictable now. It was a lot like 2012 and 2010 (at least for me). It was right there with 2012 as being a really fun year for enjoying spring migrants, capped off by a Fairfield Big Day that recorded 23 warbler species, including a Kentucky.

I recall 2015 as being possibly the worst of all these years. Which is funny, because just to our north, my friend Dave Hursh reported having the best spring migration experience of his life at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, recording 20+ warbler species daily for almost three weeks.

2016 has gotten off to a fascinating start. Birds began to trickle through the closed floodgate (as they always do) during the last ten days of April. Then came a horrible period of eight straight days of overcast rainy weather, with unfavorable winds unyielding. Finally, things changed on the night of Saturday the 7th, with a massive coastal fallout occurring in SW Connecticut the next morning, as some of the lingering rain collided with impatient migrants in the first big night of migration of the season. Reports came in of 20+ warbler species from Stratford, New Haven, and elsewhere, with birds often keeping close to the ground and being quite tame. At the moment, there is a Nashville Warbler loudly singing outside my window, with an American Redstart joining in from across the street. I look forward to following the continued progress of Spring Migration 2016, which will hopefully follow along with its even-numbered predecessors!

Note: these are simply my observations, and thus your experiences may have been completely different. Was 2012 a paltry year for you with 2013 breaking all records? If so, definitely share your experiences in the comments section below.


Cape May Warbler

After a long spell of wind, rain, and unfavorable winds, the floodgates have finally opened across the Northeast. I’ve managed to run up a nice total of nineteen warbler species over the past two days of birding my town, highlighted by a stunning male Cape May Warbler found at the Birdcraft Sanctuary this morning by Judy Richardson.

The bird provided killer views as it foraged just above eye level in a flowering willow, albeit in the bright midday light.

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On Saturday, Aidan Kiley and I witnessed a pretty amazing spectacle: five species of goose, all sharing the same pond. Perhaps in some parts of North America (California comes to mind), such an event is not that uncommon. But in any of the eastern states, an occurrence like this one is unheard of.

The pond in question is Broad Brook Millpond in East Windsor, Connecticut. The goose species: Cackling, Canada, Greater White-fronted, Pink-footed, and Ross’s. Add to this tally the Snow Goose and three Barnacle Geese seen on the pond just a week before, and you’re looking at unprecedented goose diversity. Sure cleans up the goose section of my eBird Needs Alerts!

Our trip up to the pond was precipitated by the finding of a Ross’s Goose by Paul Desjardins the day before. Ross’s would be a life bird for Aidan and a state bird for me, so just this bird alone would’ve been enough to ensure a three hour plus round trip chase. Add to that three other highly-desired goose species, and you have the makings for quite a day.

When all was said and done, we spent almost three hours with the geese, at two different locations: the aforementioned pond and a cornfield around two miles away where the flock goes to feed. Our initial looks at four of the species (not Cackling) were had in this field, before portions of the flock began erupting into the air and making their way toward the pond.

Once at the pond, we eventually notched the Cackling Goose (after lots of thorough scanning that started at the cornfield) and were able to put up to four species of goose in the same scope view.

The Ross’s Goose at Broad Brook.

All told, it was a pretty epic day, with a goose tally I’ll be hard pressed to match again in Connecticut.


The Gap

I graduated high school in June, and have since been taking some time off formal schooling in what is commonly termed a “Gap Year.” A gap between schooling it may be, the name in no way indicates that this “year” (June 2015-August 2016) is any less fulfilling. On the contrary, while still living with my parents and not yet in school or work, I get the opportunity to be as free as I’ll probably be in life until I retire. Scary.

My decision to take a gap year was partly made for me. I missed a lot of time during high school due to treatment, graduating on time with the minimum credit load. The mere accomplishment of graduating on time despite all of that missed time and adversity is something I’m extremely proud of, but because of my light course load, I wouldn’t have had much to send to the colleges in the middle of senior year (a term really does make a difference). Therefore, I put off the college application process last year, both to put all of my energy toward finishing on time and also in order to give the schools a fuller picture.

With this said, I also felt that a gap year would be good for my state of mind. Battling through high school and treatment at the same time is by no means an easy thing. I therefore felt that it might be a good choice to remove one of the weights from the scale, and dedicate my weeks off treatment toward taking some time for myself.

Over the course of the summer, that time was spent working at the Bird Watchers General Store in Orleans, Massachusetts, with the fall being dedicated toward college apps. With only the waiting time of the application process to go, I now can begin the third and final phase of my year: travel.

And I’m getting off to a roaring start. One week from today, I leave for Australia for twenty-six days. I’m ecstatic, but also a bit nervous. It’ll be my first time traveling alone internationally, and halfway across the world to boot! I’m definitely getting my feet wet with this whole independence thing, that’s for sure.


Addendum: Don’t worry. Despite six years of writing at a different site, I have not forgotten that this is my first post here! Welcome to all of you, and thanks for continuing to follow my journey in the birding world. Also, thank you to Jim Hagani for helping me get this site going.