This weekend's warmer temperatures are the result of southwest winds bringing up warmth from the southern part of the country. Birders learn that these southwest winds that occur during spring also bring in the migrant birds. As these warmer days continue, so does the influx of birds heading to their breeding grounds here or farther north. This migration peaks for us in mid-May, and it is the highlight of most birders' year.
I have spoken about the early migrants that have already made their appearance in our area. In the past week, more swallows are beginning to arrive, and barn and rough-winged swallows are joining some of the tree swallows that have been here for weeks. It is time to open up those barn windows and doors and give the barn swallows a place to nest. A few purple martins have made their way into southern Massachusetts as of a few days ago, but with the southerly winds this weekend, they should begin claiming their local colonies soon.
The kestrel flight is peaking at Plum Island these days, as counts in the hundreds per day occur. Merlins, sharp-shinned and Cooper's hawks are also on the move. Kettles of turkey vultures are becoming more common, as these birds continue to expand their range northward. An occasional black vulture, also moving more into New England, might also be spotted in these kettles.
Chipping sparrows and vesper sparrows are arriving. Brown thrashers, towhees and catbirds will be here in the next couple of weeks. Good numbers of northern flickers have arrived this week, making their presence known with their long, repetitive call and the dramatic flash of yellow in their wings. A few yellow-bellied sapsuckers have begun moving through, making rows of holes across the trunk of a pine or spruce and capturing the running sap.
More species of warblers will be flitting about in the coming weeks.
Next to arrive should be the black-throated green warblers singing their buzzy "zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee" in coniferous trees. Black and white warblers will be inching along tree trunks and branches, much like a nuthatch, in search of food. As May approaches, more of these "butterflies of the bird world" will splash colors across our trees and shrubs. They will feed on insects in an effort to fuel up before they continue farther north.
Most of these songbirds migrate at night. On a warm spring evening, you can sit outside and listen to birds flying overhead. You'll hear their calls and chip notes as they communicate with each other in flight. Some birders learn to identify some of these migrating birds by their chip notes. You can also fix your binoculars or spotting scope on the nearly full moon and watch birds as they migrate across the lunar light.
Learning how to use geography, wind direction, weather and habitat to help you identify birds are topics to be covered by Derek Lovitch, author and tour guide, who is giving a free talk, book-signing and bird walk tomorrow at the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport. Derek will elaborate on his new book, "How to be a Better Birder," including field identification, birding and habitat, birding at night and how to participate in the birding and conservation world at large. Lovitch's exciting free talk begins at 1:30 p.m., the book-signing starts at about 2:30 p.m., and no registration prior to the event is necessary. The free bird walk that begins at 3:30 p.m. has limited space, and you can register for it by calling 978-462-0775. I hope that you will join us!
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Steve Grinley is the owner of Bird Watcher's Supply and Gift at the Route 1 traffic circle in Newburyport and the Nature Shop at Joppa Flats.