Gearing Up for Migration!
May is typically the most thrilling time to be bird watching in the United States. It marks the peak of spring migration, when neotropical migrants leave their wintering grounds in Central and South American and make their way north to find breeding grounds and plenty of insects. Great Mountain Forest is situated in the middle of Atlantic flyway, which makes it a prime spot for these birds to stop for a layover. The birds arrive in their breeding plumage, which often means trees are filled with the glow of bright greens, oranges, and reds. The woods become a concert hall with their symphony of trills, whistles, and warbles echoing around the oaks and hemlocks.
Many of these birds will continue farther north before finally resting in the boreal forests of the northern US and southern Canada. A smaller percentage will decide that GMF has all that they need to raise their young.
All of that has come and gone. The end of the summer is near, and the time has almost arrived for the birds to make the lengthy journey back to their winter homes.
Here are some tips if you are interested in birding during this migration season. Keep in mind that there are different phases of fall migration, but the following will focus on songbird (mainly warbler) migration.
The fall has an entirely different rhythm than the spring. In spring, birds are constantly singing throughout the day as a way to attract mates, communicate, and mark territory. When the leaves turn, the birds are mostly quiet. As a birder you will need to be more attuned to movement. Take the time to pause and look around and you will have more success.
The plumage of migrating birds changes by season. May birds sport gaudy colors as they travel. On the return journey, the colors will dull and fade. Reds, oranges, and yellows will turn to browns and olive greens. Being able to identify birds by their plumage becomes more essential.
Weather plays an immense role in when and where fall birds migrate. The fall is known for its wet, foggy, and windy conditions, as well as the hurricane season that runs right through migration. Birders can use this to their advantage. When faced with bad weather, birds will more often than not choose to land in a phenomenon known as fallout. That means that large concentrations of migrating birds will land in a specific spot to wait out a storm. Check out GMF’s bodies of water during bad weather for a chance to see interesting water-oriented birds.
Lastly, it is important to remember that various websites and tools make it much easier to learn about finding birds. Three recommendations:
1. Birdcast- A radar tool that can show how many birds have crossed over your town or county during a specific night.
2. eBird- A citizen science website that connects you to other birders and where you can log our sightings (Tip: Sign up for their rare bird alerts)
3. Merlin- A bird ID app that can help with visual ID and audio.
(Pictures in order of appearance: Blackburnian Warbler; cred: eBird, Blackpoll Warbler; cred: Allaboutbirds, Scarlet Tanger; cred: Pinterest)