Thursday, September 3, 2009

Watch the Moon, Count the Birds

Mike Lanzone, flight-call guru (among other things) from the Powdermill Avian Research Center, is loosely coordinating a moonwatch tonight. The moon will be nearly full tonight, and if the weather cooperates migrating birds should be visible as they wing their way south.

Mike recently posted to the new Nocturnal Flight Call listserve (NFC-L),

A number of you have indicated that you would like to participate so I am just sending some very brief instructions for anyone that wants to participate. I am thinking that if possible between 10-11 and 11-12 we could watch at least 2 times during the hour for 5 minutes. Only count birds that actually go through the lighted part of the moon, but you can note others that you see in your field of view. I will be doing this 4 times per hour 5 minutes each time, starting at 9:00 pm. If you can only do this once for 10 minutes that will be ok too. This is fairly informal now, hopefully in the future it can become more. You should record the time(s) you begin and end, your location- closest town or lat/long, # birds that pass the moon (and bats too if you see any), other observations, and optics used. Send me your results and I will post to the list once I compile. Possibly in October we can get more people to join in!

Original email here. And if your concerned about identification, don't be! No need to ID species down to . . . well, species.

Why wait for October? If you've got some time tonight, wander outside and have a look. Or use tonight as a practice run for a wider effort in October. Or just got out and enjoy the night sounds, and take in Jupiter - with decent optics you can see at least four moons!

Of further interest:
Subscribe to NFC-L
Info about NFC-L
NFC-L archives



Adam said...

Hi, what does counting birds without being able to identify the species give us?

noflickster said...

@Adam - excellent question. At the most basic level, the ability to directly watch (and be inspired by) nocturnal migration, the biannual movement of billions of birds under the cover of darkness.

But I'm guessing that's not why you're asking. Scientifically, it was a useful sampling method that gave insight into broad migration strategies - where and when birds are moving, in what direction, and estimates of how many are aloft on a given night. Moonwatching is a cheap and easy way to pick away at questions relating to general aspects like the timing of migration, throughout the season and throughout a single night; paths commonly used and those avoided; weather conditions that help or hinder.

Nowadays radar address those questions (when, where, direction, abundance) as well, and on a broader scale. Couple those radar data with acoustic recordings of flight calls, which are species specific and therefore tell you what species are moving, and you start to really tease apart those questions on a species-level scale.

But moonwatching remains the simplest method to witness and study the event.

David La Puma of Woodcreeper fame (a site dedicated to tracking migrating birds with radar), uploaded digiscoped clips of birds flying by the moon this month:

Don't blink while you watch!

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