Yesterday the boys and I went on a birding field trip to eastern Lake County, Illinois, with the Evanston North Shore Birding Club. We visited sites along Lake Michigan and a few miles inland, and we saw some cool birds. We saw some species that have been found in our area all winter, like this first-year Glaucous Gull:
First-year Glaucous Gull on the docks at North Point Marina. (Another gull is right behind it.) Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.
We also found some relatively recent spring migrants, like this Ruby-crowned Kinglet:
Ruby-crowned Kinglet flicking its wings in a tangle of branches. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.
We even saw a Garter Snake basking in the sun:
This Garter Snake was soaking up the sun beside the lake. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.
However, I was disappointed that we did not see more recent arrivals to our area. In fact, most of the spring migrants were the same species we have been seeing for more than a week. We only added one year bird to our lists — Cedar Waxwing — and this bird may have been eating fruit around here all winter:
This Cedar Waxwing was eating fruit in a tall bush beside a lake. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.
Part of the problem has been the weather. It’s not just that the temperatures have been relatively cool, it’s why it’s been relatively cool — because the winds have been blowing from northerly directions. Most birds won’t migrate with the winds against them. Last night, though, the winds started to change. As shown on this map from the Chicago Tribune‘s website, to the west of us the winds were from the southeast. During the night the winds here in Chicago started blowing from the east:
Animated winds map from the Chicago Tribune website. Last night the winds to the west of us were from the south. The winds in our area came more from the east.
The birds responded dramatically, as seen on this animated weather radar image from the Chicago Tribune‘s website:
Animated weather radar from the Chicago Tribune website. The green and purple washes are migrating birds in flight. (Temperatures in the purple areas are just above freezing, so weather radar computers interpret the birds as sleet or freezing rain.)
So, instead of hunting Easter eggs today, we’ll hunt for birds produced from eggs hatched long ago. We’ll look and listen to discover which new birds have arrived in our area. We’ll watch our backyard, make a morning trip to Columbus Park, and explore around my sister’s home in Glenview after we celebrate Easter with our family. (We’ll also wish we were in western Illinois or eastern Iowa, because the radar showed lots more bird migration there.)
We’ll let you know what we find. Why don’t you let us know what you find, too?
You can study bird migration using radar images from WeatherUnderground (the source of the Tribune’s images) and the National Weather Service radar website.
To learn more about using weather radar to track bird movements: The Badbirdz – Reloaded blog includes a primer on using weather radar to track bird migration. For more explanations of birds and radar, try the New Jersey Audubon website.
Aaron ended the day with 153 species on his year list, and I wound up with 144. Go here to see my updated year list.