Archive for the 'Migration' Category

Apr 29 2017

The Catbirds Are Back In Town!

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

Gray catbird (photo by Chuck Tague)

Gray catbird (photo by Chuck Tague)

Years ago Chuck Tague taught me that gray catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) are a special signal during spring migration.

Catbirds spend the winter in Florida, Cuba and Central America, then return in the spring after the first tantalizing migrants (the blue-gray gnatcatchers and Louisiana waterthrushes) but before the big push of warblers, thrushes and tanagers.

Because they’re the leading edge of the best part of migration, Chuck always announced his first gray catbird of the year.  I’ll carry on his tradition.

Yesterday was the day!  On 28 April I saw my first gray catbirds of 2017 at Enlow Fork in Greene County and at home in the City of Pittsburgh.

This year the catbirds did not arrive alone. At Enlow Fork we also saw rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles, wood thrushes, northern parulas, American redstarts, common yellowthroats and more.

I’m still waiting for an indigo bunting.  Maybe today … 🙂


p.s.  Many of us learned a lot from Chuck Tague who passed away last June.  This coming Thursday, May 4 at 7:30pm the Wissahickon Nature Club will hold an All Members Night A Tribute to Chuck Tague.  Bring up to 12 slides or digital photos to share.  Click here and scroll down for location and meeting information.


(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Apr 17 2017

Soon The Swifts

Published by under Migration

Chimney swift trio (photo by Jeff Davis)

Chimney swift trio (photo by Jeff Davis)

What’s on tap in migration this week?

Some of Birdcast’s 14-21 April predictions are already here and one of my favorites is still to come.

Chimney swifts (Chaetura pelagica) are due this week.  We’re likely to hear their chittering sound before we see them hawking insects overhead.  Though they look like cigars with wings (above) they’re actually related to hummingbirds!  In the western U.S. watch for the similar Vaux’s swift (Chaetura vauxi).

Two of this week’s predicted migrants were in Schenley Park yesterday.

A blue headed vireo (Vireo solitarius) sang his slurred, sweet song next to Bartlett Playground (click here to hear).  Bobby Greene’s photo shows off this vireo’s blue-gray head, white spectacles, and the yellow-green wash on his flanks that makes him hard to see among new leaves.

Blue-headed vireo (photo by Bobby Greene)

Blue-headed vireo (photo by Bobby Greene)


A house wren (Troglodytes aedon) was back at the nest boxes near the golf course’s 14th hole, claiming every one of them.  Though boring to look at, his bubbly song is always loud and clear.

House wren (photo by Chuck Tague)

House wren (photo by Chuck Tague)

Warbler season is here with yellow-rumped warblers back in town and one or two sightings of black-throated green, prairie, yellow, black-and-white and a common yellowthroat in our area.

When will the first northern parula (Setophaga americana) arrive?



p.s. Click here for all the Birdcast reports.

(photo credits:  chimney swifts by Jeff Davis, blue-headed vireo by Robert Greene, Jr., house wren by Chuck Tague)

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Apr 10 2017

Hello Ruby, Goodbye Juncos

Published by under Migration

Ruby-crowned kinglet (photo by Steve Gosser)

Ruby-crowned kinglet (photo by Steve Gosser)

Spring migration is heating up!  Here’s what Birdcast says we can expect this week (7-14 April) in western Pennsylvania.

Watch for arriving ruby-crowned kinglets (Regulus calendula), blue-gray gnatcatchers (Polioptila caerulea), and many kinds of swallows.

Ruby-crowned kinglets (above) are tiny hyperactive birds with a song that sounds like a carolina wren + winter wren tossed with a chatterbox.  Click here to hear.

The blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) is another tiny hyperactive bird who’s often heard before he’s seen because of his unique “bizzy” sound.  Listen for this call and watch for the small bird pictured below.

Blue-gray gnatcatcher (photo by Steve Gosser)

Blue-gray gnatcatcher (photo by Steve Gosser)


Northern rough-winged, tree, and barn swallows are all on the move.   Click on their photos for identification tips and the calls of these species.  Northern rough-winged swallows are easiest to identify by sound because they make a spitting noise.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow (photo by Chuck Tague)

Northern Rough-winged Swallow (photo by Chuck Tague)


Tree Swallows gather for migration (photo by Chuck Tague)

Tree Swallows on migration (photo by Chuck Tague)


Barn swallow, Ontario, Canada (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Barn swallow, Ontario, Canada (photo from Wikimedia Commons)


Meanwhile, you may not have noticed that dark-eyed junco migration has peaked and they’re on their way out.

Goodbye, juncos!


(photo credits:
Ruby-crowned kinglet and blue-gray gnatcatcher by Steve Gosser
Northern rough-winged and tree swallows by Chuck Tague
Barn swallow from Wikimedia Commons

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Apr 04 2017

Bird Migration: Get a Forecast!

Published by under Migration

Osprey migration interactive map, 25 Feb to 25 Mar 2017, linked from eBird’s Birdcast

During spring migration new birds arrive every day.  We use weather forecasts to decide when to go birding. Wouldn’t it be great to have a bird forecast, too?

Check out Cornell’s Birdcast!

When birds migrate each species moves on its own schedule so Birdcast uses eBird data to map earliest arrival dates across North America.  The maps tell us which species are on the move, who’s about to arrive and who’s left.

Cornell analyzes the past week (here’s the March 24-31 analysis), then makes four regional forecasts for the coming week.  Click here for the March 31-April 7 forecast.

The map above shows ospreys on the move from February 25 to March 25.  Yes, our ospreys are back; Toronto’s will arrive soon.

Better yet, Birdcast provides arrival highlights throughout the week.  The March 28 report has news of scissor-tailed flycatchers, chimney swifts, eastern kingbirds, red-eyed vireos, northern parulas and more!  Click here for all the Birdcast reports.

So when you want to know what’s coming, check out the bird forecast at BirdCast.


(Osprey migration interactive map, 25 Feb to 25 Mar 2017, linked from eBird’s Birdcast)

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Mar 25 2017

Birds Were On The Move Overnight

Published by under Migration

National Weather Service radar, 25 Mar 2017, 4:48am (screenshot from NOAA)

National Weather Service radar mosaic, 25 Mar 2017, 4:48am (screenshot from NOAA)

What are the blue dots in the eastern U.S. on last night’s radar?  Birds!

South winds overnight prompted songbirds to move north from Florida to the Great Lakes.  A storm front approaching the Mississippi River and rain from Chicago to Massachusetts brought them to a halt.

Today should a good day to go birding in the areas that have those fuzzy blue dots.  Get out there before it rains.


(screenshot from the National Weather Service full-res radar mosaic)

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Mar 20 2017

Birds On The Move Every Day

Published by under Migration

Birds in the Americas are on the move every day of the year — even in winter.

 Animation by Frank La Sorte/Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Migration animation by Frank La Sorte/Cornell Lab of Ornithology


This animation by Frank La Sorte at Cornell Lab uses eBird data to show the movements of 118 species in the western hemisphere. Yes, your eBird checklists can lead to something useful and beautiful like this.

Click on the link to learn which species are on the map and how it was made in this January 2016 news from Cornell Lab:  Mesmerizing Migration: Watch 118 Bird Species Migrate Across a Map of the Western Hemisphere.


(animation by Frank La Sorte/Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Click on the image to see the original)

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Mar 13 2017

Of Llamas and Possums

Published by under Mammals,Migration

Llama on Machu Picchu, Opossum in western Canada (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Llama on Machu Picchu, Virginia opossum in western Canada (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

What do llamas and opossums have in common?

Their ancestors swapped continents during the Great American Interchange.  They now live a world away from their country of origin.

The “Great American Interchange” sounds like a flea market or a swap meet but it’s actually the movement of species between North and South America when the two continents joined at Panama three million years ago.

Before the interchange our continent had members of the camel family; South America did not.  The camelids walked south and thrived on their new continent in the wild as guanacos and vicuñas and domesticated as llamas and alpacas.  In the meantime camels went extinct here in North America.  So there are wild camels in Peru but we have none.

Other animals made the journey, too. Here are just a few of the northern species that became successful in South America: camelids, squirrels, cottontail rabbits, deer, wild horses, peccaries, otters, raccoons, wolves, cougars, American sparrows (Emberizidae), trogons and condors.  Click here for the complete list.

Initially the interchange was symmetrical with the same number of species going north and south but the result was lopsided.  More northern species survived their move to South America than did southern species transplanted to the north.  This was due in part to the difficult trek northward (deserts en route), our less hospitable climate (winter!) and the long isolation of South American fauna.

Opossums were one of the few success stories.  We had no marsupials in North America until the Virginia opossum’s ancestors made the journey and thrived on our continent.  Many of their relatives still live in South America.

So what did we get when South American animals walked north?  Not as much as you’d think: opossums, armadillos, porcupines, cougars, parrots, hummingbirds, tanagers, and tyrant flycatchers.  Click here for the complete northbound list.

Cougars (Puma concolor) are on both lists because they were originally from North America and walked into South America. After they went extinct in North America the southern ones walked north to repopulate our continent.

We humans were part of the Great American Interchange, too.  Our species’ movement around the globe was made possible by continental land bridges.


(photos from Wikimedia Commons: llama at Machu Picchu, Virginia opossum in western Canada. Click on each link to see the original.)

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Feb 23 2017

Two Weeks Early!

Published by under Migration,Songbirds

Common grackle (photo by Steve Gosser)

Common grackle (photo by Steve Gosser)

On Throw Back Thursday:

Last year that I reported that common grackles usually return to my city neighborhood on March 5.

Well, this year they’re ahead of schedule.  They arrived here in Pittsburgh on Tuesday February 21 and even earlier at Moraine State Park, 45 miles further north, on Sunday, February 19.

The grackles are two weeks early!

I noticed them when I heard them “skrink.”

Click on last year’s article below to watch the grackles puff and squeak on video.

Grackle Day


p.s. Have you seen other “early birds” this week?

(photo by Steve Gosser)

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Feb 15 2017

Red-tailed Hawks Adjust Their Plans

Red-tailed hawk (photo by Cris Hamilton)

Red-tailed hawk, 2012 (photo by Cris Hamilton)

If you don’t look at all the data you’ll probably be fooled.

For the past 30 years the number of red-tailed hawks migrating past hawk watches has declined across North America except at certain western sites.  With only this information to go on, you’d think that the species is in trouble.

But Neil Paprocki of HawkWatch International and his colleagues looked further. They compared hawk watch counts to the data gathered during Christmas Bird Counts in December-January and found that since 1984 red-tailed hawks have stayed in northern latitudes in much greater numbers.  They noted that red-tail counts declined at 43% of the hawk watches and increased on 67% of the Christmas Bird Counts.

As the climate warms and the winters are milder there’s less snow cover in the northern latitudes so it’s easier for the hawks to find food.  Fewer of them are bothering to travel south.

Red-tailed hawks are adjusting their plans.


Read more about the study here in The Condor: Combining migration and wintering counts to enhance understanding of population change in a generalist raptor species, the North American Red-tailed Hawk.  Laurie Goodrich of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary was a member of the study team.

(photo by Cris Hamilton)

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Jan 21 2017

Seasonal Movements: One Owl

Eastern screech-owl, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Eastern screech-owl, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Last month I mentioned that a pileated woodpecker lives in Schenley Park, but only in the winter.  Here’s another bird that seems to do the same thing.

On sunny days this eastern screech-owl perches motionless in an unusual tree opening.  He’s not there every day in winter, but he’s never there when spring comes.

Though the range maps says eastern screech-owls live in Pittsburgh year round, this individual bird probably lives in Schenley during the winter and goes somewhere else to nest.

Range map of eastern screech-owl (linked from All About Birds website)

Range map of eastern screech-owl (linked from All About Birds website)


Sorry … I’m not going to tell you exactly where he is because too much public attention will scare him off.  And if you find him, please don’t publicize his location for the same reason.


(photo by Kate St. John)

p.s.  In January this blog has 400-700 readers a day.  That’s a lot of public attention.

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