Migration Madness leaves us Winded
Memorial Day 2014 has come and gone. The traditional start of the summer season also marks the end of the most eagerly anticipated time of year for most birders – spring migration. It creeps up so slowly with the passage of waterfowl in March and the return of sparrows like the eastern towhee. This gaudy sparrow seizes our attention in early April. They are joined by tree swallows, phoebes, bluebirds and robins all looking for just the right spot to raise a family in our yards. As April advances, so does our anticipation, and adrenaline. Any day now... yep... any day now.
And then it’s upon us in earnest, the warblers, thrushes, orioles, vireos, grosbeaks, cuckoos and tanagers are everywhere. At times it seems that there is so much activity we can’t catch our breath. A chip, a trill, a twitter, and a rustle of leaves lead us farther and farther down the trail. Might it be something rare? The possibilities are boundless during migration. Your desire to find out, to see, to comprehend gets the best of you. You 'pish' heartedly, at the sound you hear emanating from the trees and thickets: catbirds, red-eyed vireos and common yellowthroats jump up almost instantaneously. But there’s more in that bramble patch and you pish some more, louder, longer, with as much gusto as you can muster you pishshshshshhshshshshsh, pishshshshshshshshsh, pishshshshshshshsh, and then you see it – a Kentucky warbler, a bit out of its range but not entirely unheard of, pishshshshshshshsh, pishshshshshshshshsh, Wilson’s warbler, a mourning warbler and a white-eyed vireo. Yes the opportunities are boundless.
At times you pish so earnestly you’re on the verge of hyperventilating but so you stop and take a tally of what’s been drawn in so far. Either that or you pish in vain, unable to attract anything but the catbird and vireo and the target of your initial pish has moved deeper into the brush or canopy. Sometimes the birds go quiet and you wonder, now and again (even sometimes aloud) with a group, if perhaps you haven’t just 'pish'ed it off. Not to worry there are more birds to find and habitats to scour while the migration rages around you.
Eventually the migration passes. Those birds racing to the boreal forests of Canada are gone and the ones staying to breed have established their territory and begun to get busy with the task at hand, the purpose for all that raucous activity, breeding.
On Memorial Day, Jackie and I led a walk with our friend Frank May for the Buck Hill Conservation Foundation on the Maple Swamp Trail at Buck Hill. Although we had seen and heard some of the most exquisite breeding birds of the Poconos-- black-throated blue, chestnut-sided and hooded warblers-- the highlight of the day, for me, was watching two red-eyed vireos tearing apart the silky nest of tent caterpillars as materials to build their own nest.
The migration is over. Jackie and I have just enough time to catch our breath in preparation for our fifteenth season of MAPS.
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A lifelong birder and naturalist.