Archive for the ‘Migration’ Category

Fall For Your Own Native Plant Meadow

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

 

To ensure you attract birds, butterflies and other wildlife in
monarch_butterfly+native_plants
Monarch Butterfly
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel
abundance to your yard, there is no better choice than planting a meadow with native plants. Not only is a mature meadow a stunningly beautiful sight of waving flowers with butterflies and birds darting in and out, but it’s virtually maintenance free, and provides the natural food and nourishment birds who are in and also migrating through the area need at the time.  And fall is the best time to get your meadow started as some of the seeds require cold or freezing temperatures before they will sprout.  Seeding before winter sets in will give you a head start on the growing season.

I have a native meadow which is nearing maturity and it is one of the best things I have ever done for wildlife and for myself — the increase in bird and butterfly activity once the plants started growing and flowering was immediate and far beyond what I had expected.  Full disclosure though, it’s not an overnight or completely simple thing to do. I hired The NJ Wildlife Gardener, Josh Nemeth, from the Cape May, NJ area to do mine as I have no competence whatsoever in landscaping or with plants in general. Josh selected a specific seed mix that was native to the area and which he knew would be irresistible to birds and butterflies. The area to be planted was covered in decades-old grass, so he covered the grass in plastic so it would die off and be easier to remove.  Then the area was seeded in the fall.   It needed some watering to get the seeds started, and then some during the late spring and dry summer months the following year.  But that was the end of the watering maintenance.  Josh also selected a number of shrubs and bushes to add both additional visual interest and variety, but also to ensure there would be food and shelter available year round for birds and wildlife.  

I was told it takes about 3 years for the meadow to take hold, and indeed that has been the case.  Honestly, it was a little depressing in year 2 as I was getting impatient and the plants really seemed to not be progressing as I thought they should! But this is the third year and the results have been stellar and well worth the wait. My meadow has everything from grasses, goldenrod, roses, iris, milkweed to cattails and chokeberry. As a result, I had all sorts of birds diving into my meadow for a respite during spring migration, new species of birds who took advantage of the extra food and safe haven to nest in my yard during the summer and now in fall, there are large flocks of birds and untold numbers of butterflies using my meadow for food and shelter as they pass through to parts farther south. The shrubs are ripe with berries, flowers are bursting out everywhere and the variety of butterflies flitting around is stunning!  Plus,  it looks so beautiful and my neighbors love watching what’s going on in my yard! 

flowers_in_native_plant_meadow
Native Plant Meadow
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

You don’t need much room to have your own native meadow. And whatever time it takes pays off big time once the meadow is up and running!  So, now’s the time to get started!  For most of us, It makes sense to have a professional native landscape designer and gardener help you get the design and the right seed mix, and get it all started. You may want to add a water feature or different sections or habitats if you have the space.  Someone who does native plant landscaping and gardening will know what to do and have the resources to get native seeds and plants for you.  If you are a do-it-youselfer, check out the how-to pages from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, get out your shovel and order those seeds!

What Do Birds Do In a Hurricane?

Thursday, October 5th, 2017
The iconic image and story of Harvey, the terrified juvenile Coopers Hawk who desperately fled the onslaught
Harvey_coopers_hawk_hurrican
Harvey, the Coopers Hawk
Photo Credit: William Bruso

of hurricane Harvey by landing on the passenger seat of a Houston taxi cab was a welcome story of hope. Harvey was rescued by the driver, taken to Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and was later released.  His story had a happy ending, but most birds caught in a hurricane are not so fortunate.

 

Fall migration and hurricane season are two extreme events which occur simultaneously.  And when hurricanes happen, they have the potential for catastrophic effects on birds. When hurricanes are imminent, some birds and wildlife can sense the impending event through changes in barometric pressure or other cues they can read. Sometimes they have time and opportunity to flee. But their options to remain safe from a rapidly moving overwhelming weather event are often desperate, fairly limited and not always successful.

 

Add to this millions of birds on migration during this time – birds who are already pushing themselves to the limit of endurance during this annual trek to their overwintering grounds.   Having to deal with battering hurricane force winds, no food or water for long periods of time, finding shelter or possibly being swept up and relocated hundreds or even thousands of miles from where you were, can be devastating. For an endangered species living where the hurricane makes landfall or which relies on a specific habitat which is destroyed in the hurricane, these storms can be an extinction event.

 

There are amazing stories about some birds like Whimbrels, which have flown directly into and through the eye of a hurricane on more than one occasion and survived.  Migrating birds can also maneuver themselves to use the winds on the edge of the hurricane as a tail wind to speed their transit, but this is a dangerous and risky business. There are also many sad accounts, like an entire flock of migrating Chimney Swifts caught in the eye of the hurricane, the survivors relocated to another continent.

 

To find out more about hurricanes and birds, check out this article from Forbes science blogger GrrlScientist which gives as excellent description of what birds face when confronted with a hurricane, what they do and what can happen.

ID Warblers With a Free Downloadable Guide

Friday, May 26th, 2017
ID Warblers With a Free Downloadable Guide

Warblers are in our midst right now and for some of us, every year it’s a similar challenge to make the correct ID of all the different species of this popular songbird migrating

Warbler_guide_quick_find_princeton_press
A downloadable Warbler Guide from Princeton University Press

through, or nesting in our area.  The folks at Princeton University Press know exactly how to solve this problem. They published The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and  Scott Whittle, which is enormously helpful when identifying warblers.  For quick references, they have a Quick Finder section which has excellent visuals of all the warbler species in the book on one page for easy comparison – spring and fall plumage, east and west species and 45 degree views.  You can get free downloads of these in pdf form to print out and take with you in the field.  It’s a handy thing to have with you during migration and when used with the book can make warbler ID a breeze.

Purple Martins Are Coming Your Way!

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017
Purple Martins are Coming – Be Ready!

purple_martins_house
Photo Credit: Deborah Rivel

Purple Martins are on their way north and looking for nesting sites. With their enchanting song and effective insect removal efforts – especially when there are chicks in the summer – these birds are a delight to have around. And if you want to help birds, Purple Martins are a needy species.  These social birds nest in communities, and their natural nesting sites are in dead-wood tree and cacti cavities.  But these sites are becoming very difficult to find and now east of the Rockies, they are forced to rely entirely on human-provided housing.  Once the first birds arrive at their nesting sites, they will begin searching for the right spot, or return to last year’s good one, and begin nest building within a few weeks of arrival.

With Purple Martins, timing is everything.  It’s essential to put the house or gourds up just after the scouts arrive as they are looking for nesting sites.  Any earlier, and sparrows will move in.  Too late, and the martins will have moved on.

Purple Martins like the safety that human activity brings, so you can situate your martin house not too far from your own home, with about a 30 foot radius of open area at the base of the house so the birds can see predators easily.  To get a better sense of timing, checkout the Purple Martin Scout Arrival Study.  You can even see where Purple Martins have been reported near you or on their way.
For any info you might want about these fast flying insectivores, visit Purplemartin.org where you can find tips on hosting a successful Purple Martin colony.

Confusing Fall Warblers

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
Confusing Fall Warblers
It’s that time of year again when even the most experienced birder might be puzzled by thecommon_yellowthroat_female_fall fall plumage of warblers.  For new birders, fall warblers can be a real challenge as not only are they much quieter (so it’s often difficult to make the ID with sound), but their molt takes them into more subdued colors. During migration, some birds are still in the process of molting so you can see anything from a near fully (although worn looking) spring look, a patchwork mid-molt pattern or a fully drabbed-out fall/winter pattern.

Fortunately there are free tools to help with these ID’s. One of the best is from Princeton University Press, publishers of Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle’s “The Warbler Guide”.  Their free downloadable pdf of fall warbler plumage is a handy sheet to take with you birding as a reference to the more tricky plumages you might see.  Pack one in your backpack and may very find your ID confidence and bird count are improved this fall!

Your Fall Backyard Tuneup

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
Your Fall Backyard Tuneup
In fall, birds’ needs start changing. The bird houses you setjuvenile_cardinal up in spring and which saw a lot of activity are now vacant. Pressure to secure food for hungry mouths in the nest has subsided, and now many birds are bulking up for migration. To create a friendly backyard for migrators and help your year-round residents, here are a few things you can do now.

  • Once all your nestboxes are vacant, clean them out. Remove the nests, and clean the houses with a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts of water — making sure you rinse them thoroughly afterwards, and let them dry completely open in the sun. For more info on cleaning out houses, click here.  You can store them once they are dry, but if you live in a place which gets cold in winter, unless you are putting up roost boxes later, some birds may find the nest boxes to be a needed refuge during the coldest times.
    • Clean your birdfeeders! These need to be cleaned often to keep bacteria from spreading to the birds. You can use the same 1:9 /bleach:water solution as for the houses, then rinse them thoroughly and leave to dry outside. Do not put seed in them until they are totally dry and have had time for the bleach to evaporate.
    • Now fill those feeders! Migrating birds need the energy from fresh seeds.  So, keep your feeders filled and leave them in the same spot for the winter for local residents to easily find food when they need it.
    • If you have native wildflowers, you can collect the seeds now and store them in a cool place in a paper bag over the winter to be planted in the spring. If you prefer, many of them can be scattered in your native plant meadow in late fall to take advantage of  freezing in winter and the opportunity for an early sprouting.
    • Now is a great time to get native trees and some shrubs in place so they can establish before winter. Native trees, plants and shrubs are essential to making your backyard a haven for birds and other wildlife as they attract the right insects and provide the right natural food for wild birds and butterflies in the area. Don’t miss the opportunity to add a few more fruiting shrubs the birds can enjoy all winter.

    Watching Migration Fly By

    Friday, May 27th, 2016
    Watching Migration Fly By
    cornell_migration_map We couldn’t resist this terrific piece of info on migration from  Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Using millions of pieces of data from ebird combined with other sources, they put together an animated map of 118 species of birds and their movements including migration, throughout one year. It’s fascinating to see that some of the birds who go the furthest south are the fastest migrators and breed the furthest north. Check out the migratory paths of these birds and watch the show! Want to know which birds are which?  Here’s the key.

    The Mystery of the Migration Route

    Monday, September 28th, 2015

    The Mystery of the Migration Route

    Do birds fly the same route on migration in spring and fall? Would it surprise you that many of them don’t? In fact, scientists are finding out that many birds, especially in spring, follow a path of new plant growth — what is migrating_cormorantscalled a “green wave” of migration — where birds follow patches of insects and food going north. In fall, especially in the western US, they take a more direct route south, staying at higher elevations, creating a round trip route that looks like a loop for their migration as opposed to a straight line used both directions.  For birds in the western US, it might seem to us to be a less enticing route, but if the choice is flight over desert, or flight over wilted foliage with insects in it, the choice seems fairly straight forward.

    This “looped migration” offers conservationists the opportunity to fine tune their efforts to benefit birds on migration by building, preserving and reinforcing stop-over habitats where they are needed.

    The information which went into this study has been made possible by birders like you who post sightings on ebird, which helps create a database of bird sightings over time.  See more on this interesting discovery at Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

    Where to Watch Hawk Migration

    Monday, September 28th, 2015
    Where to Watch Hawk Migration
    Fall migration means many species of birds are on the coopers_hawk move. September and October are great times to see birds heading south, and this month we have a terrific fall migration hotspot to visit.

    Duluth, Minnesota is located on the western tip of Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world by area. It serves as a gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and provides many outdoor adventures. It is also home to Hawk Ridge, an amazing fall migration hotspot.

    Hawk Ridge is a short drive from downtown Duluth and looks over both the town and Lake Superior. While enjoying the view you can see streams of birds flying by. Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory hires professional counters to count hawks, but they also have an interpretive naturalist to help identify birds. Tucked back along the ridge are hawk banding stations, and HRBO’s interpreters bring out captured hawks frequently, allowing visitors to “adopt” hawks and release them.

    There are many passerine migrants at Hawk Ridge, but most people come to see the ridge’s namesake, the vast numbers of raptors that fly over in fall. Scientists believe that as migrating hawks head south they turn when they reach Lake Superior, as many are reluctant to fly across such a large body of water. They follow the shoreline southwest until they can get to Duluth and “round the corner” to continue a more direct route south. Hawk Ridge is perfectly situated for great viewing of these migrants.

    Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Goshawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, Peregrine Falcons and many other hawks are seen in large numbers at Hawk Ridge. You never know what might show up! Volunteers, educators, naturalists, hawk counters and visitors all keep their eyes on the sky to point out the migrants. October is an ideal month for Hawk Ridge’s most infamous migrant, the Northern Goshawk, and owl migration really picks up at that point too. Migration at Hawk Ridge remains active through NovemberVisit Hawk Ridge at night to see banders release wild owls, or adopt one and release it yourself!

    Making That First Migration

    Saturday, July 25th, 2015

    Making That First Migration

    Young birds are leaving the nest, and many of them are getting ready for their first trip south. Migration is a hard and risky business for any bird, but the first marathon voyage for many species of birds takes place shortly after they have fledged. How do they do it?

    rose_breasted_grosbeak_juvenile

    Songbirds such as American Robins and this young Rose-breasted Grosbeak are born nearly naked and completely helpless. They remain in the nest while their parents work overtime to provide protein-rich insects and other food for their babies. When the chicks fledge, they have strong instincts that will guide them to their wintering grounds. They don’t need to follow their parents, although they often fly together on their first migration.

    Crane chicks are born with fluffy down feathers and are precocial – meaning they are ready to go right away. They leave the nest and bravely follow their parents across marshes, fields and river banks, learning everything from them – from how to find food and avoid predators, to when and to where they are supposed to migrate. Unlike most birds that migrate, Sandhill and Whooping Cranes don’t instinctively know where to go on migration, and if they are not shown the way, captive bred birds remain where they were born.

    Shorebirds are an extreme example of instinctive behavior. Similar to cranes, shorebirds are born with fluffy down feathers and are precocial. But, unlike cranes, they get very little help from their parents. After fledging, young shorebirds must fend entirely for themselves, and their parents usually leave for migration before their chicks. First-year shorebirds make incredibly long, sometimes multi-day, flights entirely on their own or with a few other first-year birds – none of whom have flown the route previously.

     

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