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,


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