Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Songbird Migration is Winding Down
May 26, 2023
By Steve Grinley
We are nearing the end of this year’s spring songbird migration. The blackpoll and mourning warblers are bringing up the rear of the warbler show, if you can call it that. There was no big “fallout” this year, perhaps mostly due to the weather patterns. For those who arrive on Plum Island early enough, there were a few mornings with a good variety of species and bird song. Even on those days, it quieted down by midday with bright sunshine and an easterly wind that can push many migrants to the mainland.
One of the better days may have been last Sunday as reported by Paul Guidetti of Westford:
“Fantastic morning on Plum Island on Sunday. Lots of birders and photographers getting on some good birds. Almost all sightings from the road North from Hellcat parking. Great discussion about the merits of using Merlin Sound ID in place of/in addition to field marks, experience, etc. [I will address Merlin in an upcoming column.]
“Great long look at olive-sided flycatcher up the road from hellcat in clearing near lone pine full of warblers. Many people got to see good looks at the vest and white patches when the bird turned its back to us (no song, sadly). A great day!”
Even on those days, the numbers of individual birds were never high. Many are female and younger birds moving through as they follow the lead of the adult males in migration. And, yes, the flycatchers are arriving, as they usually do, later in the game.
On the same day, last Sunday, Matt S. of Newton already sensed the nearing of the end of migration at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, not that far south of us. Matt reported a “light flows of migrants, maybe the weather or migration starting to wind down?” in his trip report:
“We had a BBC [Brookline Bird Club] walk at Mount Auburn this morning, it was a bit quieter, possibly due to the rain over the region last night. Every year though I convince myself that THIS is the year we get a last pulse that lasts into June. Of course the birds keep a much stricter calendar than I do apparently…so maybe this is just things starting to wind down a little bit.
“Still, there was a decent showing with about a dozen warblers. Bay-breasteds still well represented…I recall 2018, I think, or maybe 2019, there was a huge flight of bay-breasted warblers in May. That’ll always be the “bay-breasted year” in my memory, mainly because the flight seemed to go on forever. This year things were delayed a bit at the start, but once migration broke open it seemed like there was a constant song from bay-breasteds in the air. Today was no different, there were quite a few singing.
“Maybe this will be the “Tennessee Year, Featuring Bays” in my memory. There was another one out and about today. At laurel circle above the Dell a Chestnut-sided sang on an open branch for some time. Magnolias were out and about, as were blackpolls. Female redstarts were abundant, usually a sign that we’re entering the last push….
Since birds enjoy timeliness, at one point I said “I haven’t seen an indigo bunting at Mount Auburn this year” and one promptly started singing about 20 seconds later. Other highlights included the black-crowned night heron still hanging around spectacle [pond].
“Overall I would say it was a fun trip, one gentleman got 7 lifers which is fantastic and makes these trips so much more fun. I would say the air was less “dense” with bird song as things “move along”.
“There were some juvenile robins about; each year I find it to be such a juxtaposition…warblers, vireos, etc. in a mad dash up north; meanwhile as they are still a week or more away from breeding grounds, robins, cardinals, sparrows, etc. have already fledged their first broods. I find it akin to the fact that from the very moment summer starts, the days are getting shorter, leading us to the conclusion. Migration is still going on, breeding is already well under way for others and some fledglings will already be attempting to fatten up.”
Thank you Matt. Let’s hope that there is another “pulse” of birds as we move into June!