Thursday, May 1, 2014

Illinois Migration Report 2014 Debut (5/1)

Hey everybody!

If you haven't heard it from me yet, a belated happy spring! It's already had a lot in store for us. I'd like to use these first few lines to apologize for the lateness of this year's report. Migration has been passing over us with considerable numbers since mid-April--even before that depending on your location--and I have dropped the ball on that one. This has probably been the busiest springs of my life, and my free time up until last weekend--when I finished a service project involving the installation of six new wood duck nest boxes at Rollins Savanna--was extremely sparse. All said, I thought the beginning of May would be a good late starting point; I'm definitely looking forward to what we have ahead of us.

So what's been happening this spring thus far? Most notably, this spring has not even been close to experiencing the delays we witnessed last spring. The warmth (at least relative to our winter) has come without much of a struggle, and the birds have followed. Spring Bird Counts this year should be in their full, face-melting warbler-full splendor around the state. Lists from around the state are already totalling between sixty and eighty species. Birds are here ladies and gentlemen, and they are ripe for the finding.

Warblers, vireos, thrushes, kinglets, sparrows, some flycatchers, shorebirds, raptors, herons, and many more taxa of birds have been moving through with full early-spring force, and numbers of species and individuals will only increase as time progresses. Birds like White-throated Sparrows, Eastern Towhees, Hermit Thrushes, Yellow-rumped, Palm, Pine, Nashville, Orange-crowned, Black-and-white, Yellow, and Black-throated Green Warblers, Northern Parulas, Common Yellowthroats, Northern Waterthrushes, Ovenbirds, Brown Thrashers, both kinglets, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, House Wrens, Warbling Vireos, Eastern Kingbirds, both yellowlegs, Chimney Swifts, Broad-winged Hawks, and many many more, are migrating right now. They could be out in your favorite patch right now, and I will always be encouraging you to get out there and discover things. Because that's what we birders do.

Though birders' predominant interest is, of course, the birds themselves, another thing migration is that birds do not exist in a void. They are part of a hugely complex, international, ecological system we call the earth. And during migration, one of the most significant parts of that earth that birds interact with is the weather. Weather determines when birds will migrate, when they will be feeding actively, where they will be feeding, how they will be feeding/behaving, and how to go about finding them. Weather literally shapes every aspect of birding during migration, and the more you understand it, the better you can reap the benefits--be they on your list, be they feeding your curiosity, or be they helping just have a good day birding. How wonderful birding becomes when it brings us closer to the rest of the world around us.

As innovation, learning, and discovery demand constant revision and improvement, how will the report be different this year? While the focus of the report remain on nocturnal migration, I would like to give more attention and prediction to diurnal migrants, which means predominantly raptors and shorebirds. I would also like to give a little more attention to how the weather will affect bird behavior and our encounters with it. Lots of interesting research has been published lately with some really cool, relevant birding bits, and I'd love to fill you all in. This also means warning you all when fallout conditions are so dire that there may be some large scale collections necessary on the lakefront (like that shared with us by our friends at the Field Museum). As most of the reports last year came out pretty late, I'm committed to trying to get them out earlier this year. Finally, I would like to take a more regional approach in our large, long state. This reduces the risk of generalizing at so large a scale that the report doesn't apply to certain areas of the state. There are many other little changes in store, and hopefully they'll do good things for all of us.

Overall, I want to maximize all of your abilities to discover as much as possible, in the shortest, sweetest possible package. Deal? Deal.

Now on to some brief introduction. The first thing to do when analyzing and predicting migration is to look at a surface analysis map. Here, we search for any fronts (boundaries between two air masses), storm systems, or high/low pressure systems that may facilitate migration. Before looking at the map, we need to understand that spring migrants love riding north around northbound cold fronts because they move faster than warm fronts. This is why cold fronts always produce more rapid weather changes (like squall lines), whereas warm fronts are often less obvious. Also extremely important, we need to understand that high pressure systems (the big H's on the map) rotate clockwise, whereas low pressure systems (the big L's) rotate counterclockwise. This means that winds will be circling clockwise around a big H, whereas winds will be circling counterclockwise around a big L. Why do we care? We care because with this knowledge and a few big L's and H's on the map, we can predict in which direction winds will be moving in any region around a given system. Cool, eh?! We don't even need a wind map (though we will be using a rather pretty one)!

Now that we have that established, also remember the simple facts that in the spring, birds want to go north, so they love southerly winds (winds from the south). Also, as the prevailing winds come from the west, systems mostly move over us from the West to the East. Simple enough, right?

Awesome! You're now a qualified migration forecaster! In the next post, we will have tonight's actual report.

Finally, here are some of my favorite resources:

UW-Madison NEXRAD - use this and the next link to find migrating birds via radar. This is perhap the coolest thing, ever.


Earth - A beautiful, international, live wind map.

Intellicast - a fantastic online weather service:

eBird Illinois Frequency Data - Tells you when to expect any bird ever seen in Illinois.

Finally, if you are in need of some more intro to things like Radar ornithology, migration science, and methods in migration forecasting, see the below links.

Regarding the report in general, I am totally open to suggestions for improvements. I would love to hear from you all, but for now, let's get to the birds!!

Thanks everybody. Go team.

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