Saturday, March 14, 2015

Spring Migration 2015: Preface

Rumbles of migration to come from
March 12th

As many of you who have spent time in the field must have noticed, migration is afoot (or, dare I say it, a'wing). We're in a fascinating time of year right now, a time when we can go out and find White-winged Scoters and Red-winged Blackbirds, juncos and early migrant Hermit Thrushes, Glaucous Gulls and Common Grackles. Arrivals and influxes were obvious in the past seven days, when weather systems converged to supply us with a stream of southerly winds and accompanying warm temperatures. So keep you eyes to the sky! Depending on how quickly spring migration accelerates, I will begin the daily Illinois Migration Report within the next two weeks.

As per usual, we will be focusing on the connection between weather systems to bird migration, and use a list of online tools to do so. In this sort of preface post, I'd like to equip you with these tools before the nightly forecasts begin. They are as follows:

  1. Mixed Surface Analysis - Probably our most valuable resource in predicting bird migration. This map shows cloud cover and precipitation across the continent, while also showing the weather systems that influence them. Even when radar is down, we can still use the counterclockwise rotation of winds around low pressure systems (the big "L's") and the clockwise rotation of winds around high pressure systems (the big "H's") to predict where birds will be moving.
  2. Earth wind map - this is the best live map of winds I have found to date...take a look for yourself to understand why.
  3. Wind Forecasts - Useful for predicting how winds will shift in tandem with surface analysis maps.
  4. NEXRAD Radar via UW-Madison - My favorite source of radar for seeing birds. Everything is exceptionally clear in the maps, and accessing them is extremely easy. Use this page to check whether there's migration, and to gauge the magnitude of that migration.
  5. RAP Realtime Radar - A little bit more complicated to use, this site gives you access to more specific information, and is also the only place where you can determine the direction of bird migration. Use this page to learn more specific information about migration.
  6. Illinois Bird Frequencies - An example of how eBird makes you a superhuman birder. This page gives you frequency bar charts for every species ever found in Illinois. Scroll through to predict what you may see today!
  7. BirdCast - One of the projects from the incomparable Cornell Lab of Ornithology. BirdCast gives bird migration forecasts and analysis for the entire continent weekly. The Lab of O has access to better data and better analysis methods than I ever will, so it's always worth checking back here.
  8. Have questions about how migration, and the study thereof, works? Check here for the information you crave.

But merely forecasting migration is not enough for our thirsty intellects! In addition to understanding the link between weather and migration enough, I'd also like to connect the behavior we observe in the field, nocturnal flight calls, and how winds influence various families of birds differently (e.g. how hawks respond to winds differently than shorebirds). In addition to these aims, I will also aim to continue making my predictions accurate for the regions of our long state. 

Putting these things together nightly is a tall order, which is why I'll need YOUR help. The birding community of Illinois is exceptional its the diversity of its interests. Among you, there are hawkwatching aficionados, diehard shorebird followers, vagrant specialists, and well-rounded generalists. And you hail from many places along the length of the Prairie State, be it northern, central, or southern Illinois. In order to achieve the goals set out above, I'd like to source more information from outside my own observations and interpretation of the weather. 

Ultimately, this means more dialogue between myself and a number of other birders. SO, if you have unique expertise about the migration of specific bird groups, live in an area with a lower concentration of birds, or often make interesting observations about migrants, I want to work with you! Let me know if I can consult with you for the IL Migration Report. You could play a big part in bringing more novel and accurate information to the report, and, ultimately, in enriching Illinois birders' experience in the field.

With that, I'd also like to report that this will be my last season of reporting on Illinois Migration, as I will be moving out of state in August. If there is anyone out there in IL that would like to carry the torch--especially fellow young birders--let me know! I think we can all agree that being informed about migration makes us better at understanding the natural world.

So that's that about that. Keep your eyes peeled folks, and if you observe anything interesting related to migration, I'm all ears! Let's a have a great spring migration.

Cheers and good birding,


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May 27th, 2014

Low pressure and
a cold front
Evening everyone!

Tonight's migration
With the arrival of low pressure systems into our area, we again are experiencing favorable southerly winds. But alas, like last night, the migrants are really thinned out in numbers, and again we are only seeing light migration throughout the state. If there were any night to facilitate the final heavy movements of the spring, tonight would be the night, but it already feels like the last of what we call heavy was already long ago. So tonight, migration may fill out a little bit more by later in the night, but overall there shouldn't be too much influx anywhere in the Prairie State. So that's that.

Tonight's winds
Though this pattern of light migration is likely to continue until migration is finished altogether, it may still be worthwhile to look at the wind forecast. Sadly, they're not encouraging (N & Cent. IL wind forecast, S IL wind forecast). A cold front is beginning its passage from the north of us into Illinois tonight, and by the time it has engulfed the entire state on Thursday afternoon, winds will be east-northeasterly throughout the state. The favorable conditions of tonight will last longer in southern IL, but it seems this cold front may be the ceremonious end of any distinct spring migration. Not only will it be a conclusion to migration--though migration never really ends--it will also be a cue to shift focus to the fascinating ecology of breeding birds, and I hope you'll all join me in that!

That's all for tonight! Here's the eBird Frequency Chart to predict your findings.

Good birding!

Monday, May 26, 2014

May 26th, 2014

Last night's migration
Greetings all,

My sincerest apologies for the lack of a report last night. I had a family gathering of sorts that went a little later than expected, and sadly, not even the birds migrating over us could keep me awake. And there were birds over our heads last night, though it depends on where you are. Looking at the radar from the peak of last night, it shows that in most places throughout the state--save northern IL where migration was moderate--migration was ultimately light. This is in spite of the favorable southerly winds we were experiencing.

Tonight's winds
Looking at tonight, we again have favorable southerly flow. And again, in spite of this, migration has followed a similar pattern with light concentrations throughout the state. This could be because the birds aren't favoring the relatively high pressure over us, but if earlier this spring is any evidence of the contrary, I have another hypothesis.

Dare a say migration in winding down?

Though late spring migrants are still passing through, the bulk of the spring migrants we all observed are far north of us by now, busy with the deliberation of territories and the selection of mates. They passed by us in an exciting flash of color and sound, and now many of them are gone...for now.

Tonight's migration
But we'll save the season's sentimental wrap-up for later. For now, tomorrow may still see some influx in your area amongst the now greater variety of breeding birds. This interaction between species still migrating and species beginning their breeding season is always fascinating, and I encourage you all to get out there and be your own bird ethologists!

Looking ahead into the crystal ball of wind forecasting (N & Cent. IL wind forecast:, S IL wind forecast:, we see that in the current high pressure, winds are forecast to remain weak and confusedly southerly-based at least through Wednesday, taking on a more westerly component by then as well. We'll see what that brings us.

But for now, here's the eBird frequency chart. And with that, I bid you all a goodnight!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

May 24th, 2014

Tonight's winds

Evening everyone!

Winds have at last began to shift away from their previously northerly direction tonight, as they are now easterly. As it happens, they're coming through pretty weakly, so by late tonight, birds may be moving diagonally across the state (from southeast of us to northwest of us) in at least moderate concentrations. But thus far tonight, migration through our state has been pretty sparse. Moderate migration is currently occurring in the northern third of our state, but elsewhere migration is pretty much light. So unless the birds pick up the pace a little bit more tonight, tomorrow morning shouldn't be a time of explosive avian variety. Regardless, migration still has a huge variety of birds deposited around our state, so if you can get out there tomorrow, do it!

Radar at the time of this post
Looking ahead a few days, winds are finally set to return to their southerly position tomorrow morning, and are forecast to remain so throughout the state at least through Monday. So tomorrow night especially, the skies should be hoppin' with birds.

That's all for tonight, folks. The state's pretty uniformly mellow tonight, so there's not too much reason to divide up by region. Still, here's the eBird page to predict what you'll be finding tomorrow.

Happy birding!

Friday, May 23, 2014

May 23rd, 2014

Hey folks,

So tonight, as the unfavorably northerly winds have weakened pretty considerably, birds are actually migrating in moderate concentrations throughout the state, a surprise to me especially. I am constantly inspired by the tenacity of neotropical migrants, and any influxes we see tomorrow will be evidence of that. The state is remarkably uniform with migration tonight, but unlike last night, it may be heaviest in Central Illinois. Keep an eye on the radar! Things may change in unforeseen ways through the night.

Winds tonight
Looking forward (N & Cent. IL wind forecast:, S IL wind forecast:, after winds become very weak and easterly tomorrow, winds are forecast finally to become southerly by late Sunday morning. So while the birds may still be moving tomorrow night, Sunday night may see the heaviest migration of the weekend.

So, if you can, get out there and test how much migration is happening! Here's the eBird page for predicting what you'll be finding.

That's all for tonight, folks! The state is now very unified, but we'll see this break up in days to come. Here's looking forward to the rapidly approaching last final push of spring migration!

Good birding!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

May 22nd, 2014

Evening all,

Tonight, as forecast, the winds have become unfavorably northerly, and the average concentrations of migration tonight are light to moderate. This is, however, a time of year where many birds cannot miss a beat to move northward, and out of the millions of individual migrants moving through our state right now, some of them are moving in heavy concentrations. Dividing the state up by thirds wouldn't be as useful tonight, so let's take migration tonight on a case-by-case basis.

Northeastern Illinois (see right) is somewhat isolated from the light migration in the rest of northern and central Illinois, as according to the radar, it is currently host to moderate to heavy migration. This may be because of some alteration of the winds caused by Lake Michigan, as migration is also heavy in southeastern Wisconsin. But beyond that, the reasons for such movement tonight in northerly winds is beyond me. But hey, no complaints here!

As stated, migration in the majority of the rest of the state is light to negligible except for Southern Illinois (See left). Much of Southern Illinois remains host to only light concentrations, but the further south you go, the closer toward moderate levels you get. By sometime tonight, it seems likely that the furthest southern radar station in Illinois will be relaying images of heavy migration, so to any of you southern Illinois night-owls, this may be worth keeping an eye on. Like in Northern Illinois, I have only a shaky hypothesis to explain this at best.Winds right around far Southern Illinois are actually almost due westerly, though most of these winds are south of Illinois. Without the northerly influence of the winds, birds may be utilizing the westerly winds. But that's all I've got. Regardless, there may still be some influx tomorrow!

So that's that. Other than the named exceptions, migration is basically light in the Prairie State.

The winds are set to change throughout the state pretty soon, folks (N & Cent. IL wind forecast:, S IL wind forecast: Late Friday night, winds are forecast to shift to be more easterly, and by early saturday morning, these winds are forecast to become southeasterly, a definite improvement from our current northerly winds. So we all have that to look forward to.

Anyway, here's the eBird frequency chart to check out what birds may be around right now:

And with that, I bid you all a good night. Good birding!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 20th, 2014

Hey folks!

So before the arrival of a cold front from Northwest of us into the Prairie State, birds are getting one more night with favorable, southerly winds. Birds in Central and Southern Illinois especially are moving with moderate to heavy concentrations right now, and that concentration will probably increase as the night progresses. Northern Illinois, on the other hand, is dominated by precipitation tonight, and probably will not see much movement. Let's take a look by region:

Northern Illinois:
As said, Northern Illinois is currently occupied by large and energetic areas of storm activity thanks to the approach of a cold front. Winds in North-central and northwestern Illinois are much calmer than in the rest of the state (or even in northeastern Illinois), and this lack of a significant tailwind is the second blow to migration in Northern Illinois overall. So, it seems that tomorrow morning will come about without the arrival and influx of much but rain, though birds will probably be moving in some concentrations around the margins of the storms. So that's that. Moving on to what we'll be seeing in the next few days, winds are forecast to be thoroughly northwesterly by tomorrow afternoon. After that, the winds will become more due northerly and last in that form at least through Thursday. So again, we find ourselves in a migratory hiatus after tomorrow afternoon.

Central Illinois:
Mostly avoiding the precipitation in Northern Illinois, Central Illinois is a stage set for migration tonight. Movement is already moderate and will likely become heavy by later tonight. Winds remain to be southerly, and the birds are riding them. So get out there and find the migrants tomorrow while they're still moving! Tomorrow night, with the passage of a cold front, winds will become northerly and by extension unfavorable. According to the wind forecast, they'll be grounded like us primates at least through Thursday night.

Southern lllinois:
As far as tonight has developed in Southern Illinois skies, Southern Illinois is currently host to the heaviest migration around the state (SW IL, S-central IL, SE IL). With strong and direct southerly winds, the birds are travelling northward from the Southern States. So tomorrow morning, expect some definite arrivals and influx. Like southern Illinois often does, it is luckier than the rest of the state with its wind forecast. The cold front and its northerly winds are forecast to take until late Thursday morning to overtake Southern Illinois, so Wednesday night should also see some movement in Southern Illinois is not anywhere else.

So that's that! Here's my secret weapon of bird migration prediction (eBird).

And with that, I bid you all adieu. Good birding!