Sunday, June 14, 2009

Migrants in June--Yes June!

I think a lot of birders tend to think of June and July as the quiet season for migrants. These are certainly the lowest months for participation in eBird (in terms of the number of checklists submitted). Brian, Marshall and I have long wondered, what's the reason for this drop-off. Yeah, we know that it can be hot, humid, and buggy--and anyone who could see me now would know it's also allergy season. But, it's also an incredibly good time for birding. Most of us know that it's a great time to find nesting birds, but these months are under-appreciated in terms of finding migrants.

With that in mind, I decided to check some of the landbird locations around Braddock Bay, New York this morning. Firehouse Woods can be a spectacular location for birds in migration. Nestled between Lake Ontario, several smaller lakes and a bit of suburban sprawl from Rochester, the small woods here are a haven for migrants. If you come in here from mid-April to mid-May the woods are teeming with birds and birders. But by late May, there is almost no one birding. And in June? No one at all--the eBird bar charts are almost empty for the summer months!

With that in mind, I've decided to spend some time checking local migrant traps (both landbirds and shorebirds) from mid-June to mid-August to see what birds may be passing through that we don't notice. It would be great if others gave it a try--I think we'll all be surprised by how much is going on.

I'm already off to a great start with a NORTHERN PARULA today--a bird that was last reported to eBird from here on 17 May (and certainly doesn't breed near here). Where was it headed?

My complete eBird list is below.

Good eBirding,
Chris Wood, Ithaca New York (currently near Braddock Bay, New York)

Location: Firehouse, Long Pond Rd (Monroe Co., New York)
Observation date: 6/14/09
Notes: I checked both sides of the woods going as far as the loop in the trail on the south side.
Number of species: 32
Great Blue Heron 1
Mourning Dove 2
Downy Woodpecker 4
Eastern Wood-Pewee 2
Willow Flycatcher 2
Eastern Kingbird 1
Warbling Vireo 7
Blue Jay 3
American Crow 1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 3
Barn Swallow 1
Black-capped Chickadee 7
House Wren 3
Marsh Wren 2
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 1
American Robin 10
Gray Catbird 7
Cedar Waxwing 2
Northern Parula 1 **RARE at this season. I'm not sure what direction this bird was headed. A single bird came in silently to my pishing--it appeared to be an adult male with a bold complete breast band and brightly colored throat and upper breast. No sign of molt. I only saw him for about 15 second before he disappeared.
Yellow Warbler 18
American Redstart 2 Two singing males--the one that I saw was a first year male with one black feather on the breast, dark lores, a couple black feathers on/near the malar and a bit more orange color to sides of breast.
Common Yellowthroat 2
Chipping Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 4
Swamp Sparrow 5
Northern Cardinal 4
Red-winged Blackbird 12
Common Grackle 2
Brown-headed Cowbird 4
Baltimore Oriole 5 As with most birds that I have seen around here, all individuals (including two females) had a lot of red in the plumage--males on breast, females on sides of breast, sides of the uppertail coverts (tract, not individual feathers).
American Goldfinch 8
House Sparrow 2


  1. Chris - I also wonder about this drop off in birding activity in June. Breeding season is fantastic here in northern Idaho/eastern WA and it is *not* hot and buggy but activity drops noticeably after Memorial Day weekend. This is also a great time to be mapping the distribution of our more local breeders and there is always the chance for a rarity - some wierd stuff shows up in June. This is a good time to organize breeding bird census/blitz activity which might be a way to get more birders into the field in June.

  2. Chris,

    Jeremiah Trimble and I eBirded at Provincetown, MA (the tip of Cape Cod) on Sunday. I too, was focused on June rarities and the intersting question of what migration is occurring on this date. An adult Long-tailed Jaeger wsas well within their known "spring migration", but adults of Parasitic and Pomarine were more enigmatic although probably also northbound. Hundreds of shearwaters and storm-petrels are obviously recent "spring" arrivals, but don't really count. Our highlights that we considered migrants included the following:

    11 Broad-winged Hawks -- clearly migrants; migration/wandering of immature Broad-wingeds is well-known at many eastern hawkwatch sites

    3 Chimney Swifts--All birds seen in directed "northward" movement flying past Pilgrim Heights, an excellent place for migrants (and poor place for nesting swifts)

    3 White-rumped Sandpipers and 1 Greater Yellowlegs--Both shorebirds with a pattern of "spring" migration into June, although the yellowlegs is very close to "fall" migration as well and could have been going either way.

    Black-billed Cuckoo--One singing bird could have been a migrant or local nester.

    Bank, Tree, and Barn Swallows: An aggregation at Pilgrim Lake could have been locals or migrants; interesting.

    Cedar Waxwings, American Goldfinches: Both of these were flying overhead at the outer beach, behavior I associate with active migration at "known" migration seasons. These species migrate en masse in late May and stragglers might reasonably be considered to be migrants in June.

    Blue Jay: One of our more interesting observations were groups of 1 and 2 Blue Jays at Herring Cove (a beach location) and High Head (a hawkwatch site), which were flying high overhead and possible migrants. Why were they moving in June? Blair Nikula, a longtime Cape Cod birder, has observed similar mid-summer movements for Blue Jays at Morris Island, another Cape Cod migrant site.

    thanks for the interesting post and I'll continue to follow-up with other observations of June migrants from my local patches!

  3. Chris and everyone,
    I echo all your sentiments on how interesting and under-birded this month is. I wanted to note that the morning after Marshall and I eBirded Provincetown, I woke up to an adult male Magnolia Warbler singing incessantly in my parents back yard in Centerville on Cape Cod. This species is not known as a breeder on Cape Cod and was most certainly a migrant, albeit a rather late one. My father and I watched this bird for some time feeding at the top of an oak near a family of Tufted Titmice. I look forward to continuing to look for potential migrants and sharing them.

  4. I too wonder for the summer drop-off of birding. I've actually been overwhelmed with all the activity locally (I am way on the eastern side of NY) - my own yard has 3 nesting species that are now leaving their nest boxes. I have been finding great species in random places - this week I've come across bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks in a field near some new McMansions, a Great Blue Heron behind a Girl Scouts building, two more Great Blue Herons flying over rural farmlands, and today while picking strawberries on the NY/VT border I heard Yellow Warblers, a Common Yellowthroat, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, and an Eastern Phoebe, among others. An exciting time of year, indeed.

  5. Now, we have a good excuse here in the Dallas area. It's 98 degrees here today! That said, there's always the back yard. And, oh my, what a lot of activity we have in our small yard. I put in a list of 22 species for yesterday. That's right, 22 species, mostly all observed from the air-conditioned comfort of my family room. That's a daily record for us, and it happened in June!

    For starters, the June bugs are in full flight, and I've never seen numbers like this in 18 years. But a couple of Brown Thrashers have figured out that we leave our porch lights on all night, and so there's a high concentration of beetle-food in the mulch of our shrub beds near the door. The two of them are thrashing about together several times a day.

    A cute little, very spotty, immature American Robin has come over to see what all the activity is about and got himself a snack, too.

    Our very dedicated Mockingbird family who fledged three chicks has finally gotten them foraging on their own. They're to be seen regularly hunting beetles, too, albeit slightly clumsily at times.

    Then there's the Red-bellied Woodpecker couple, affectionately known as Pecola and Woody, who brought their chick to the peanut feeder yesterday. Oh, and ther's Pecola now! Hi, Pecola! She's quite good at keeping the immature Starlings off the feeder. That bill of hers is a weapon.

    One of the coolest things that happened was all of a sudden about a week ago, the Bewick's Wren that we thought was long gone in May was suddenly to be heard singing all cross the back yards of our house and our neighbors' houses. He popped over for a quick song at the neighbor's crepe myrtle tree yesterday.

    Then, last night as the sun was setting, we went out scouting the evening sky for nighthawks. Our method is stand in the middle of the back yard and look up. (Very sophisticated. :) Sure enough, we got a couple of Purple Martins, a Barn Swallow, 2 Common Nighthawks, and a couple of Chimney Swifts. Oh, and there was also that Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that was vigorously escorting the American Crow out of the territory.

    A perfect ending to a wonderful birding day.

  6. I had another observation I wanted to share. It's about the necessity of birding by ear in the summer.

    On Sunday morning, my husband and I went out to one of favorite birding haunts with high hopes. About half way through the excursion it occurred to both of us that we weren't seeing, and I mean visually ID-ing, that many birds. The trees are in full, dense leaf, after all.

    However, the place was full of song. Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Bluegray Gnatcatchers, Yellow-bellied Cuckoos, a Downy Woodpecker, a couple Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, several Painted Buntings, an equal number Indigo Bunting, a Red-shouldered Hawk, Eastern Phoebes, Blue Jays, Cardinals, White-eyed Vireos, Red-eyed Vireos, Crows, and who knows what else. No Northern Parulas or Dicksissels this time, though. :-)

    It occurred to us that we've become rather good a birding by ear. About 2 years ago, it had been a goal of ours to get better at birding by ear, and if Sunday is any example, we've made tons of progress.

    The challenge of birding in summer has really stretched our abilities and we have expanded our birding skills as a result. Now that's another good reason to get out there and do some birding!

  7. Summer birding in Florida is more survival then birding. With temps in the 90s with 100% humidity it drains you quick and the birding what little there is in June in Central Florida is all but over by 8:30am, after that the birds have sense enough to hide like most of the rest of us. I do bird over the summer b/c I take others birding from Europe and lead nature hikes (I am a Park Ranger and lead private tours on the side) but if I am not required to go out I don't till August (which is worse than June and July) when the shorebirds start returning and early migrants are coming in. If a rarity shows I may chase it, like Neotropical Cormorant in a restricted access area near Orlando on Lake Apopka. Doing Florida Scrub-Jay surveys I found a Mississippi Kite in Lake County a rare bird here any time of year, and since it was an adult I was thinking breeder? Nearest are Gainesville about 80 miles north. Oh and the Florida Scrub-Jay surveys get me out because we need to see if the birds have raise any kids. Summer is the time I stay in the AC and read up on what to track down in the fall and for any upcoming trips. It is the time to add to my knowledge and prepare to put it to practice in the field come August.
    Good Birding

  8. I would think that part of the reason that checklist submissions drop off in June is that as another poster said, you have to bird mostly by ear. I know that I never found many birds in the summer until this year when I really started focusing on learning bird calls. I went to this one park the other week and recorded about thirty species, I realized afterwards that I had only seen about 10 of these. June is definitely a good month for birding in Michigan, I already have over a hundred species for the month without leaving Michigan. I also like the fact that rare birds are easier to track down in the summer, you don't usually have to worry about them leaving the day after they were found.

  9. Okay today I did some June birding at a preserve in my area (Eastern Long Island, NY) that I had never been to before hoping to catch some late migrants. I didn't. However I was rewarded with breeding Red-headed Woodpecker and Black-and-white Warbler. Got to see an adult male Black-and-white feeding an immature and a pair of Red-headed chase a grackle away from their nest. To put these sightings into context with my birding I had not seen a Red-headed Woodpecker since 2004 and had never seen a Black-and-white Warbler in June before. Pretty good day.

  10. June birding in Alabama is very good but July birding for migrants can be pretty exciting as well. Yesterday (July 20) a friend and I were birding over a large (300 acre)hay field where there had been sighting of a large number of Swallow-tailed Kites. We saw a HUGH congregation (kettle?) of kites circling over an adjacent field. We tried to count the the birds but there were just too many. We officially logged it at 50+ and that was conservative! After the large flight split up, a number of birds --30+--perched in a nearby dead oak tree. Another birder got a photo and forwarded it to me. Email be if you would like to see the photo.