Last night was an active night for both migrants and a squall line associated with a front. This squall line has been steadily progressing east through the Gulf States and into the Florida Panhandle. As the wind and rain swept across the landscape, birds were out over the Gulf. Spring migration often means migrants arrive later in the day than what most birders expect. This is especially true along the Gulf States and the FL Panhandle.
Winds were ripe for a Gulf Crossing overnight. Warm southerly winds over the takeoff points (Mexico, South America and Cuba) likely triggered a massive flight over the Gulf. The FL Straits were alive with radar returns overnight as can be seen below. A large exodus of migrating birds were recorded on the Key West radar.
Winds over the majority of the state gave birds a tail wind, expect most migrants to have flown past your birding patch by early morning. This doesn’t mean you will be left out with no birds to see, as we wrote before birds do tend to arrive later in spring than fall. With great migration winds some birds may be flying from farther south than Cuba or Mexico. Birds departing from the southern Caribbean and even South America have much longer distances to fly and would be expected to arrive much later in the day than most birders expect. Rogue migrants will fly far into the day and will often fly on past coastal migrant traps to larger greener pastures.
Looks like the best birding should be experienced along the far western panhandle today. With the promise of a Gulf Crossing and a passing front, all it takes is a wind shift to slow migrants down enough to cause a concentration of migrants at migrant traps. If the wind shift and precipitation catches birds out over the Gulf, fallout conditions quickly take shape, birds work harder as they fly into the wind and ironically they begin to weigh more. How is this you ask, didn’t they use up fat reserves during the flight and thus weigh less? Remember the rain? As birds fly hard into a headwind associated with a front, rain is usually on the menu as well. As birds encounter rain they slowly become saturated and quickly become heavier than they anticipate. With little fat reserves on board and muscles literally wearing thin, birds have no choice but to drop out, causing what is called a fallout. Birders want to see one, but birds want to avoid being caught up in one. If you so happen to be lucky enough to witness a true fallout you will know it. If you are wondering about the welfare of the birds, here a few tips that will help the birds:
•If you like to photograph birds, give these fallout migrants some distance. Don’t encroach on them because they are tired out and won’t fly far away. If you continue to follow the bird as it flies from limb to limb an eventually tree to tree, you are making the bird use up what little energy it may have left. Give birds time and distance to recover from almost certain death.
•If shorebirds are stacking up on the beach as a result of a fallout they will also need their rest. If you can put aside the urge to run into the woods after passerines, sit and steward for the birds. You can help with kids running at the birds on the beach or adults that are walking on the beach. If the beach allows dogs, ask owners to leash the dogs as they will likely run at the birds causing unnecessary energy expenditure. All in all the point is to give the birds a chance to rest and feed to be able to refuel and continue on their journey.
•Share your birding knowledge with a non-birder. Someone is eventually going to ask; why are there so many birds out today? Tell them what is going on and why, give them a look through your glass or digiscope a bird with their phone camera through your scope for them. The point is to involve others and maybe you will have just made a new birding buddy.
Today we will leave you with this quote:
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught ”
Nature is Awesome,
Angel & Mariel