Friday, August 22, 2008

Cascading River of Birds

If you've paid attention to bird reports recently you already know migration is well underway, and has been, conservatively, for about six weeks. Was it Pete Dunne who once pointed out that if summer were bookended by bird migration it would only be a few days long? Whomever it was went on to point out the last migrant passerine was spotted winging its way north a couple of days before the summer solstice, and a couple of days after the solstice the first yellowlegs was on its way south.

Here in the Finger Lakes region of New York shorebird reports have been steady from Cayuga Lake and Montezuma NWR, and we've already had a Solitary Sandpiper show up at our backyard pond in the southern tier. In fact, it was a year bird and the first we've recorded on fall migration. More my speed these days, though, are the sound waves emanating from the river of birds that will be flowing over our heads for the next couple of months.*

If you've never been you should head over to Bill Evans's "" website. Bill's sole intention is to learn about nocturnal bird migration and share the knowledge with anyone who cares to listen. He focuses on flight-calls, those short, simple "tseeps" and chips (among other impossibly short notes) you may hear overhead. Not only does he teach you how to identify the sounds with Flight Calls of Migratory Birds, a CD-ROM developed with Michael O'Brien, but he also provides instructions on how to build your own microphone set up using materials from local garden and grocery stores (after a trip to Radio Shack, naturally). And that's not all, he also provides analysis software free so you can use your computer to view, study, and listen to what flew over your house while you slumbered. No more dark circles as you stumble into work the next morning!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I also study nocturnal migration, though we use autonomous recording units developed at the Lab. Bill's web site and his CD-ROM have been instrumental for me, learning to identify those less-than-500-millisecond long calls; it's opened a new avenue of birding. In fact, I'm building my own "flower pot" microphone so I can record migration over our house. What a mesh, for me, of "work" and "play," and now that the floodgates are open on this fall's migration I'm excited to listen for what's passing by. Recently we've been hearing more and more activity in what Sinatra called the wee small hours: three nights ago it was a huge push of Veerys with a smaller flight the next night.

More to come on nocturnal migration as the season progresses, and happy fall to everyone!

*Dates may vary with latitude, offer available across North America. Act now, don't miss out!

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