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Notes From The Field Blog

Migration is Amazing

Posted: 8/22/2013
Posted By: Tim Krynak
Original Source: Notes from the Field

Migration is amazing!  Birds, bats and some insects annually undertake incredible journeys with just the power of wind and their wings.  These amazing animals follow a predictable timeline on ancient migratory routes to wintering to grounds from Ohio to the tip of South America.  I have included a general schedule of what is expected to move through Ohio and when.   This blog topic will be updated often to follow and highlight migrant movements as they stream though Ohio.

 Starting in mid July and peaking in August, shorebirds like the solitary sandpiper arrive from their nesting grounds in northern Canada with additional species arriving in the weeks to come.  These champions of flight have finished their nesting season on the open tundra and now are headed south.  Finding mudflats during their journey is critical for these birds. Mud flats are ever-changing, here today and gone tomorrow.   They feast on invertebrates pulled from the mud to fuel their muscles for long dangerous flights with potential encounters from predators, inclement weather and most of all loss of habitat along the way.   Red knots fly more than 9,000 miles from south to north every spring and repeat the trip in reverse every autumn, making this bird one of the longest-distance migrants in the animal kingdom.

Solitary Sandpipers

The first couple weeks of September are typically the peak for migrating monarchs on Ohio’s north coast as they make their long journey to wintering grounds in Mexico.  On sunny days with a northerly breeze is the best time to head the shores of Lake Erie to view the monarch’s flight.  On good days hundreds can be counted every hour throughout the afternoon making land fall from over the lake.  Their migration can trickle into October with late arrivals pushing the weather envelope.

Monarch butterfly on swamp milkweed and monarchs congregating at Lake Erie's shoreline on a September morning.

 Songbird migration peaks in September and continues into October.  On clear calm nights you can hear the chip call notes of warblers, thrushes and sparrows as they fly overhead, utilizing the cover of night to aid them in their journey.  Technology now lets us monitor this migration by listening for their calls as they pass overhead.   The migration champion of this group belongs to the blackpoll warbler.  This small song bird makes it way over Ohio to the east coast where it fattens up and then will head out over the Atlantic Ocean flying non-stop without food, water or sleep for up to 3 days, finally reaching land on the eastern coast of Brazil.   

Nashville warbler, Blackpoll warbler and White-crowned sparrow


The following graph depicts the total number of flight calls each night and I will continue to update during migration and images of the recorded calls.  


August  starts with increasing numbers of migratory bats beginning with male red bats heading south through Ohio, utilizing street lights that attract insects. Street lights are a great place to observe red bats foraging for moths.  Female red bats will soon follow, then hoary bats and finally silver-haired bats, with some lingering into November in Ohio.  There is still much to be learned about these mammals as the darkness of night has made it difficult to track their patterns. 

Eastern red bat


Once the songbird migration tapers off the water birds pick up momentum.  Blue and green-winged teal are the first to arrive, closely followed by building numbers of wood ducks.  Next are the dabblers like mallards, gadwalls, black ducks and pintails where marsh habitat is the best location to search for them.  When the divers arrive and it is time to head for big water.  Lake Erie is a great place to view rafts of golden-eyes, redheads, scaup and mergansers utilizing the bounty of the lake's fish and aquatic vegetation food supply.  Finally common loons are seen on lager bodies of water as they stop to refuel on their way to the Atlantic Ocean. 

Northern pintail, Blue-winged teal and Canvassback


As the weather becomes cold and water freezes it is time to watch the bird feeders for less common species.  Hardy songbirds from the far north will sometimes head south in large numbers during years of low seed production.  Pine siskins, common redpolls, crossbills and evening grosbeaks entertain us until migration the other direction begins.

Common redpoll


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