Thursday, October 23, 2008


Migration: (n)
1. The act or an instance of migrating.
2. A group migrating together.
1. The seasonal movement of a complete population of animals from one area to another. Migration is usually a response to changes in temperature, food supply, or the amount of daylight, and is often undertaken for the purpose of breeding. Mammals, insects, fish, and birds all migrate. The precise mechanism of navigation during migration is not fully understood, although for birds it is believed that sharp eyesight, sensibility to the Earth's magnetic field, and the positions of the Sun and other stars may play a role.
the periodic passage of groups of animals (especially birds or fishes) from one region to another for feeding or breeding

It's essentially a movement of something from one place to another. With animals, it's usually an annual occurrence.
With birds, it happens twice a year. Once going north to their breeding grounds and once going south to their wintering grounds.

So why to birds migrate?
This answer is from the Texas parks and wildlife website:
"There are a number of explanations for migration. (1) Birds migrate to areas where food is more abundant, (2) there is less competition for nesting space, (3) the climate is milder, or (4) the daylight hours are longer. These enhance the chances of survival of a bird and its brood. Most birds require a rich, abundant supply of food at frequent intervals because of their high metabolic rate. Adequate food is not available throughout the year in most regions. North American birds must endure the hazards of winter or migrate to more friendly climates. In winter they migrate to the warmer, southern regions of the United States, Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and South America where food is abundant. In the spring, these birds fly north to habitats where spring and summer provide more food production and less competition for food and nesting sites than in their winter habitat. Summertime at northern latitudes also means more daylight hours to seek food for themselves and their nestlings." (

So there's your answer there. Most birds migrate not because it gets cold out, but because of lack of food. Most of the landbirds that migrate are insect eaters. Warblers, Thrushes, Flycatchers, ect. In winter, the insect supply drops and most of these birds can't subsist on seeds alone. There are those of course that can subsist on mostly seeds and many of those stay year round. You know many of them from your backyard feeders. Chickadees, Nuthatches, some Sparrows, Finches, ect.

So that leads us to the next question:
How many species of birds in the USA migrate?
The answer is approx 2/3 of the entire number of species found in the USA. In numbers, that's somewhere around 500 species. This includes Shorebirds, Seabirds, Raptors and Passerines.

Which bird has the longest migration route?
This question is a tricky one since study on migration is only very recent and actually tracking migrating birds with radio tags has only come into play in the last 10 years or so. Just to give you an idea, here's an article that was published in the New York Times on Jun 20, 1915:

Back then, the Arctic Tern (Sterna Paradisaea [The Tern of Paradise]) held the record for the longest migration. 11,000 miles from the Arctic to the Antarctic.
However, 11,000 miles is the distance if you go due south from one pole to the other. The Tern's actual path certainly does not trace a route due south and may even meander much more than we think. It's possible that the actual distance that the tern travels may as much as 25,000 miles or more. (
One Arctic Tern, ringed (banded) as a chick on the Farne Islands off the British east coast, reached Melbourne, Australia in just three months from fledging, a sea journey of over 22,000 km (14,000 miles).
Currently, our tracking devices are too big and heavy to fit on these small birds so until we can make them smaller and lighter, we will not know that actual distance that this bird travels.

Currently, the recordholder for the longest migration route is the Sooty Shearwater with a migration distance of 40,000 miles! (
The Shearwaters winter off New Zealand and fly a roundabout path northwards to their breeding grounds in the North Pacific.
They have a wingspan of 43" and can travel as much as 620 miles in a single day.

The current recordholder for the longest single non-stop flight of a migrating bird is the Bar-tailed Godwit. Last year, ornithologists tracked a female of this species flying 7,145 miles from it's breeding grounds in AK all the way to the wintering grounds in New Zealand. (
My friend Andrea over at Earthbirds just posted something about this:

Even though there are wayward flyers like the ones I described, most migrants follow an established route from one location to another. There are five major flyways in this part of the world. The Atlantic Flyway, the Mississippi Flyway, the Central Flyway, the Pacific Flyway, and the Pacific oceanic route. Here in WI, I live on the Mississippi flyway. It is a major route for Passerines, Ducks and hawks especially.

Which birds are the highest flyers during migration?
Your first thought to this question might be Hawks and Eagles. They're always flying up high. But not really. Most birds only fly as high as they need to to complete their journey. Most bird migration is in the range of 150 m (500 ft) to 600 m (2000 ft). (
However, Bar-headed Geese hold the record for the highest flyers. They have been observed flying several hundred feet above the highest peak on Mt Everest. That's above 30,000ft!

So how do birds navigate their way to where they're going?
There are several different theories on this. Some birds are believed to use the angle of the sun's rays as a compass and as a sign telling them when to go. Other birds are believed to use the earth's magnetic field the same way we do. This second theory is the more popular one.

How does temperature and weather affect migration?
Temperature is another factor is determining when to leave. As the seasons go on, the average temp steadily drops. Woodcocks and snipe use temperature in determining when to leave.
Here's something I found on how weather affects migration:
"Weather is one of the chief external influences on migration. Cool air masses moving south in the fall can trigger migratory flight. Cool air brings high pressure, low or falling temperatures and winds moving in the direction of flight and clear skies. If the cool air meets warmer air, clouds, precipitation and fog may result. Fog, especially, causes birds to descend to the ground and cease migration. Sudden changes in the weather can be disastrous for birds. In the spring a warm, moist mass of air (low pressure with higher or rising temperatures) moving north over the Gulf of Mexico can start a wave of migrating birds to move northward from the American Tropics or southern United States. A southward moving cold front meeting such a warm air mass can result in heavy rains and high winds. This can stop migration immediately or within 24 hours. These spring "fallouts" or "groundings" of migrants may occur when the migrating birds literally fall into sheltered areas seeking food and refuge. This can be disastrous if the migrants are forced down into the ocean drowning thousands of birds. Resumption of southerly winds and rising temperatures starts migration northward again." (

How did migration originate?
The answer again comes from the TX parks and wildlife website:
"The roots of the migratory habits of modern birds are believed to date back millions of years, and were tempered by environmental changes caused by the Ice Ages of the Quaternary period over the last 2,500,000 years. Migration, as is known among modern birds, probably developed gradually by stages. As the environment changed, some animals changed their habitat slightly, hardly leaving their home region. The movements of others were more erratic, moving toward more favorable places. These first stages of migration were stabilized by natural selection. As winters grew more severe, much of a given bird population probably perished rather than attempting to flee any unfavorable conditions. A fraction of this population probably sought more favorable conditions elsewhere. Natural selection favored the 'migrants' and migratory tendencies were retained."

Migration here in WI is slowly winding down. Most of the Passerines have already gone south and most of the ducks are quickly following. The winter residents are starting to arrive now. Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs, Finches and others are filling in the gaps that the migrants left. The winter finch forecast for this year looks good. Ron Pittaway (The finch expert from Ontario) has put out his forecast for the upcoming winter season:
On Mon, Hawk Ridge Bird observatory counted the following non-raptors:
30 Snow Geese, 3 Cackling Geese, 2 Black-backed Woodpeckers, 2164 American Crows, 36 Common Ravens, 99 Snow Buntings, 28 Rusty Blackbirds, 20 Purple Finches, 744 White-winged Crossbills (record high count), 2 Common Redpolls, 566 Pine Siskins

Interestingly, they had a record high count of White-winged Crossbills. These finches depend on the soft cones of Black and White Spruce and Hemlock. The seed bank for these trees is down this year and cone production is low compared to past years. We may see a moderate irruption of this species into Northern and Central WI and surrounding states.

So that brings us to the final migration question:
Do birds that are usually non-migrants also move?
The answer is yes! Chickadees, Cardinals, Nuthatches, Finches, Owls; they will all move to where food is more plentiful. Also, there is general seasonal movement within the ranges of these birds. I suspect that the chickadees that you see in winter, are not the same birds you see in the summer. The same thing with Goldfinches. There is definitely at least some seasonal movement with this species. Especially at the southern extent of their range. In the summer, there are no Goldfinches in TX, GA, MS or some of the other southern states. In the winter, you can find them there. However, in places in the northern extent of their range, they cease to exist.

So in the end, most of the reason that birds move from one location to another is plentiful food or lack of it.
So think about it. If you're hungry, where do you go? to the store where there's more food. Birds don't have a grocery store so they have to move elsewhere where food is more plentiful.

I hope you learned something. I certainly did.

Happy Birding!

books used in this post were: 
Field guide to birds of North America: Kaufman, Kenn
Published by: Houghton Mifflin

Dictionary of birds of the United States: Holloway, Dr. Joel Ellis
Published by: Timber Press, Copyright 2003, ISBN: o-88192-600-0

Websites used:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Palm Warbler

I digiscoped this Palm Warbler this morning. It was nice to see one after not seeing any warblers for the last week and a half. 

I also digiscoped this Junco.  

Happy Birding! 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Harrington beach WSO field trip (10/19)

Today was the last WSO field trip of the year. The annual hawk watch field trip to Harrington beach State park. Although, today was anything but a day for watching hawks.   
Mike Mcdowell, Jesse Peterson and I arrived and Harrington beach around 8am this morning. We quickly picked out a large raft of scoters about a third of the way out on the lake.  They, as well as almost all of the other scoters of the day, quickly proved to be Surfs. There were Ring-billed Gulls sitting on the beach and several Bonaparte's Gulls flying out over the lake.  Then, Daryl Tessen showed up and managed to pick out an interesting looking Bonie that had us guessing for awhile.  After scanning for some time, we picked out a couple Horned Grebes and some flyby Red-breasted Mergansers.  Then we joined the main group at the parking lot.  The winds were from almost due south making the hawk watching forecast quite slim.  We didn't see a single raptor from the parking lot.  Bird movement was very slow. Some Juncos were present along with a mixed flock of chickadees and Kinglets. We were able to pick out a couple of Pine Siskins as well.  The best bird there was easily a flyover GREAT TIT. These birds are becoming more common in that area and there is a small breeding population.  It was mostly started from escapees. Who knows though. There might be a wild one in with them and we would never know. 

Jesse, Mike and I cut out around 10:30 and headed up to Sheboygan.  On the way out, we came across a flock of Turkeys. I managed to get a shot of one:

Sheboygan proved to be equally quiet. There was one Sanderling on the beach, some Mallards hanging around and several Ring-billed Gulls:

But that was all. 

Then we headed back to Harrington beach and spent about an hour watching scoters trying to pick out anything else besides Surf.  We thought we had some for a few minutes but then got to a better position and they all turned out to be Surf: 

Locked in the "fossil" position you might call it. 

In the way of hawks, we saw a grand total of 3 Red-tails, 3 Coopers, 1 Kestrel and nothing else.  
We did find several species of ducks though, including Redhead, Bufflehead, both Scaup, Mallard and Black.  
Of the misses for the day, the most notable were two entire families in particular. There were no Sparrows (save for Juncos) and there were no Warblers at all.   
Interesting day albeit slow. 

Happy Birding! 

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Canon's newest camera does something amazing!

So soon after the release of their brand new EOS 50D, Canon will be coming out with a brand new camera.
The EOS 5D Mk II.

The latest and greatest feature on this new 21MP full-frame DSLR is...... HD Video!
Yes, that's right folks, this camera not only takes still photos, it also takes up to 12 minutes of HD video!

Here's a sample of the video capabilities of this new DSLR:

This camera will run in at $2699.00 and is expected to be available in Dec 2008.

Among other things, Subaru is now vying for the title as America's birding car:

Photo Quiz: fall sparrows

Here's a photo quiz for all you blog readers out there: 

I took this photo just the other day
Good luck! 

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Slow birding

I would be posting more often but the birding has been pretty slow. It's so slow that I can fit 4 entire days worth of Wisbirdn posts on one page of my email.  The best bird reported recently was an ARCTIC LOON seen today in Superior WI.  Too far for it to be economical for me to chase.  I was out driving today and saw a few things.  Red-tails and a single Cooper's Hawk, B Kingfisher, Swamp Sparrow, some female Wood Ducks, Coots, C Geese, DE Junco, White-throated Sparrow.  
Pretty slow.   

If something comes along, I'll post about it. Until then, I'll just have to find something bird related to post about.   

Happy Birding! 

Monday, October 6, 2008

Project Feederwatch

Each year, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology runs their Project Feederwatch through their citizen science programs. In this project, you, the everyday backyard birder, get to contribute to science by recording your backyard feeder sightings and reporting them to the Cornell Lab.  This project has been instrumental in discovering range expansions by winter birds, what their preferences are, population increase and decrease, ect.  Here's the newsletter put out by Cornell: 

Contact: David Bonter, Project leader
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
(607) 254-2457 For release: October 6, 2008

Project FeederWatch Benefits Birds and People
Connection with nature promotes wellness

Ithaca, NY- More than 100 studies have shown that getting closer to nature reduces stress and promotes a feeling of well-being in children and adults. So, filling feeders and counting the birds that visit may be just what the doctor ordered! For more than 20 years, that’s what participants in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch have been doing- benefitting themselves and the birds.

"It is a great winter time activity for the whole family," says Alaska FeederWatcher Nancy Darnell. "If you have children, they will come to love watching the birds. All of this is fun and a chance to contribute to scientific studies, too!"

The 2008-09 season of Project FeederWatch gets underway November 8 and runs through April 3. Participants count the numbers and kinds of birds at their feeders each week and send the information to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Participants submitted more than 115,000 checklists during the 2007-08 FeederWatch season, documenting unusual bird sightings, winter movements, and shifting ranges- a treasure-trove of information that scientists use to monitor the health of the birds and of the environment.

“Being a FeederWatcher is easy and fun, and at the same time helps generate the world’s largest database on feeder-bird populations,” says project leader David Bonter. “We are grateful for the contributions our participants have made for the birds and are proud of the joy they say it brings to their busy lives. Since we started in 1987, more than 40,000 people have submitted observations, engaging with the wildlife beyond their windows.”

“Project FeederWatch opened up a whole new world for me,” says participant Cheri Ryan of Lockport, Kentucky. “It’s so interesting to watch the activities of the birds. I learn something new each time I participate.”

Scientists learn something new from the data each year, too, whether it’s about the movements of common backyard birds or unusual sightings of rarely-seen species. Highlights of the most recent season include the largest southward movement of Red-breasted Nuthatches in the history of the project -part of an expected influx of northern birds that fly farther south when their food supplies run short. Other northern species showing up in record numbers included Common Repolls and Pine Siskins. Among the rare birds reported was a Streak-backed Oriole in Loveland, Colorado- the state’s first report of this bird, native to Mexico. A December nor’easter deposited a Dovekie in Newton, Massachusetts, the first time this North Atlantic seabird has ever been reported to Project FeederWatch.

Long-term data show some species increasing in number, such as the Lesser Goldfinch in the Southwest. Other populations continue a downward trend, such as the Evening Grosbeak throughout their range. Once one of the most common species seen at feeders in the northern half of the continent, the grosbeaks are declining for unknown reasons.

Beyond the benefits to birds and science, however, is the benefit to participants. “Nature is not merely an amenity; it is critical to healthy human development and functioning,” says Nancy Wells, Cornell University assistant professor of design and environmental analysis. Her studies find that a view of nature through the window or access to the environment in any way improves a child’s cognitive functioning and reduces the negative effects of stress on the child’s psychological well-being. Wells also notes that when children spent time with nature early in life it carries over to their adult attitudes and behavior toward the environment.

Project FeederWatch welcomes participants of all ages and skill levels, from scout troops and retirees to classrooms and nature center visitors. To learn more and to sign up, visit or call the Lab toll-free at (800) 843-2473. In return for the $15 fee ($12 for Lab members) participants receive the FeederWatcher’s Handbook, an identification poster of the most common feeder birds in their area, a calendar, complete instructions, and the FeederWatch annual report, Winter Bird Highlights.

Many FeederWatchers echo this comment from Mary Strasser of Wisconsin: “The greatest reward for me as a participant in Project FeederWatch these many years has been observing birds and behavior that I might have missed had I not been part of this project.”


Note: Photos are available at To find local participants for stories, contact David Bonter at (607) 254-2457 or email Visit the “Explore Data” section of the web site to find the top 25 birds reported in your region, rare bird sightings, and bird summaries by state or province.

Media contact in Canada: Kerrie Wilcox, Bird Studies Canada, (519) 586-3531,

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth’s biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Visit the Lab’s web site at .

Thursday, October 2, 2008

New post: Catching up

Sunrise over lake Superior at WI point

Wow! I haven't posted in such a long time!  I have sooo much to catch up on and I've been really busy lately. 
Instead of doing separate posts and using up valuable time, here's a summary of everything that has happened since I last posted: 
First off, music camp in NY this year was fun. The only drawback was that someone stole my digiscoping camera. Now I just have to rely on my DSLR til I get another one. (I'm glad I didn't take my DSLR along)
I did however get a new lens. I purchased the Canon EF 100-400mm IS L lens after much consideration. Now, with a camera with an effective focal length of 520mm, I can get some pretty decent and really sharp shots. 
The Loggerhead Shrike that I last posted about hung around awhile longer after I had left. The two Shrikes were seen together several times and eventually a juvie Shrike was found which confirmed nesting. I believe this is the first nesting record for Richland County and only the 3rd or 4th nesting record for this part of the state.  
As I was riding out to NY on the train, I received a call from Dan Jackson saying that he had found a BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCK in one of the flooded fields ("Lakes") in the Spring Green area. 
By that time, I was, unfortunately, several hours away and could not return.  It was a great find though since this would be the 5th state record of this species if accepted. Judging by the photos, it will indeed be accepted. (Photos here: 

Lesser Yellowlegs: Spring Green WI

This fall, the Spring Green area has been the best shorebird spot in the state. With all the rain we had this summer, the water had nowhere to go and backed up in the farmers fields. The farmers weren't too happy. The birders (and birds) were delighted.  A couple of the fields became "lakes" and supported more than just shorebirds.  After I got back from music camp, in a single morning I found 4 species of ducks, 3 herons, 18 shorebirds and a pair of Kingfishers in that area.  The 18 species of shorebirds included my latest lifer. Buff-breasted Sandpiper.  Before Aug 2008, I had not seen a single Buffie. After Aug, I had seen more Buffies in one spot than anyone else was seeing in the entire state.  In the past few weeks, the fields have dried up considerably and even one of the "lakes" almost completely evaporated. 

Sept 18-21 I spent in Superior WI at the WSO annual field trip to WI point.  I recorded 115 species for the weekend including 2 lifers.  My 2 lifers were: 1 adult, almost full breeding plumage Red-throated Loon and 1 juvie Sabine's Gull.  A couple other great birds at the point included 4 Parasitic Jaegers that provided close flybys and great views and a single Red-necked Phalarope that provided some spectacular photo ops. Migrants on the point were altogether rather slow with Harris's Sparrow being one of the notable misses. 
I also somehow missed Philadelphia Vireo even though a few were seen during the trip. 

Red-necked Phalarope: Superior WI

Lately, the birding has been slow. At on point, almost all the migrants were Tennessee Warblers and nothing else. Now, they're all White-throated Sparrows and almost nothing else.  All other migrants have been in 1s and 2s. Brown Creepers, YB Sapsuckers, Yellow-rumps (yes, in 1s, 2s, 3s, and 4s but no more), a few other species of warblers, a couple other sparrows, Golden and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, ect.  
Even hawk migration has been slow.  I have yet to see more than 8 birds of the same species at one time. species diversity has been decent though. N Harrier, Coopers, Sharpies, Broad-wings, Red-tails, Merlin, ect.  
Otherwise, the birds are packing it south. It's been a pretty quiet fall so far throughout the state.  No rarities to speak of at all and most birding rather slow.  

I promise to post more often in the near future and maybe post some more trip photos when things get really slow. Til then, Happy Birding!