We keep seeing signs that spring is on the way. Yesterday the Chickadees fought for territory in Columbus Park; Cardinals sing each morning despite the cold; and male Goldfinches are flecked with bright yellow.
But some signs are best seen on my computer’s screen. The 2009 Hummingbird migration map is online at Hummingbirds.net. Because spring seems most secure when Ruby-throated Hummingbirds reach Chicago, we follow their northward progress in the Web. With each warm front that passes, the map’s hummingbirds surge northward, only to stall out when a cold front follows. Our anticipation builds, then fades, then builds again. We hang our hummingbird feeder when the first dots reach southern Illinois, so we’ll be ready when hummingbirds finally reach our neighborhood.
We also check Chicago Tribune’s regional radar every night and morning. Large northward movements of birds form anomalous patches of color between the real storms. Here’s an image from Wednesday night, when south winds were blowing across the Midwest:
The blue color north of Green Bay is real snow, but the purple/green speckles around Indianapolis and north of Cincinnati are bird flocks on the move. (Many kinds of birds migrate at night.) There are fewer speckles around Chicago, so fewer birds were moving through our neighborhood. How can I tell what’s birds and not precipitation? I checked the current conditions online — no precipitation was being measured on the ground south of Wisconsin.
Now we’ll try to see the migrants on the ground, where they stop and feed during the day. I’ll be watching my backyard all day and visiting Columbus Park later this morning. The boys will keep an eye out at their school. We’ll also check online versions of birding email lists for Illinois and Indiana to read about what other birders find.
The Badbirdz – Reloaded blog includes a primer on using weather radar to track bird migration.
12:15 p.m. on Thursday: Our first on-the-ground results are in! On his exercise walk through Columbus Park, Dad saw two neighborhood firsts for this spring: Red-winged Blackbirds and Killdeer. I also heard three Song Sparrows engaged in a vocal duel over the thickets at the edge of a pond. First one would sing, then another, then another — sometimes overlapping, sometimes not. Unfortunately, the only bird that would sit still for a photo was a Herring Gull eating a dead fish. (If you really want to see that, I’ll send you a copy.) The full results for this walk are on our Columbus Park birding page.
7:45 a.m. on Friday: The neighborhood’s first Common Grackle of the year just showed up at our sunflower feeder. When it saw me at the window with Ethan’s new camera, it took off before I could take a photo.
Update on Monday, March 9, 2009:
I checked the Midwest Radar at 7 p.m. Chicago time. I saw some migratory “speckles” in Indiana at about sunset. However, nothing for Chicago. We are expecting winds from the southeast tonight and tomorrow, but they are bringing lots rain that may swamp any radar evidence of migrating birds. I guess we’ll have to go out between rain storms tomorrow to see what birds arrived with the southerly winds.