Tag Archives: Migration

Peak Migration

May 19, 2016

Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Marblehead

Magnolia Warbler - at 72 dpi

Magnolia Warbler, male, watercolor on Fluid 100 cold-press, 7″ x 10″

In New England, May is the busiest month for Spring songbird migration, and most birders agree that the 2nd and 3rd weeks of May are prime time.   This is when the greatest numbers and variety of migrating passerines move through Massachusetts.

Two Mass Audubon properties are of particular note at this time of year.  Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary and Nahant Thicket Wildlife Sanctuary are well known “migrant traps” – small plots of woodland on heavily developed peninsulas surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean.

As with most types of birding, hitting a place like this on just the right day is largely a matter of luck, but visiting during the prime weeks aforementioned gives one a pretty good chance of having a good day.  The days I visited did not coincide with any spectacular “fall-outs”, but neither did they disappoint.  I saw 16 species of warblers in the course of my two visits, plus a smattering of vireos, thrushes, tanagers, orioles and gnatcatchers.

Traveling to these heavily developed areas from other parts of the state, one must anticipate traffic – HEAVY traffic at certain times of the day.   I realized I would need to:  a.) start out pre-dawn and try to arrive at the destination before the morning traffic rush begins or b.) travel later in the morning when rush hour is tapering off.  I chose the second option for Marblehead Neck, and the first for Nahant Thicket. 

Arriving at the Marblehead Neck parking area at 10:15am, I claimed the last parking spot.  It had been a busy morning, and some birders were just returning to their cars.  They had the usual report, which was basically: “You should have been here yesterday.”  However, I could hear a Blackpoll Warbler, a Magnolia Warbler and a Black-throated Green from the parking lot, so how bad could it be?

Wood Anemones, Marblehead Neck - at 72 dpi

Wood Anemones

Wood Anemones are in full bloom along the Warbler Trail, and as I near the small pond at the end of the Vireo Loop, I hear the “burt-burt” calls of a Northern Rough-winged Swallow.  A pair is using a snag above the pond – periodically perching and preening between bouts of aerial foraging.  I seldom see Rough-wings perched, so take the time to make a quick sketch, noting that the wingtips are often held below the tail.

Rough-winged Swallow sketch - at 72 dpi

While a brilliant tanager, grosbeak or oriole can steal the show momentarily, it’s the wood warblers that are the star attraction here.  On the way to Audubon Pond I begin to get a sense for which warbler species are most abundant today.  Northern Parulas and Magnolia Warblers are everywhere, and Black-and-whites and Redstarts are nearly as common.

Redstart Studies - at 72 dpi

Redstart Studies, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10″ x 13″

Bay-breasted Pair - sketch - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study, pencil, 5″ x 5″

At the pond, I spy a handsome male Bay-breasted Warbler foraging in a flowering oak, and a short time later spot the female.  The pair keeps in close proximity to one another, and at one point I have both of them in my binocular field at once, perched only inches apart.  I refine my sketches later to make careful studies of both the male and female.

Bay-breasted Warbler, female - at 72 dpi

Female Bay-breasted Warbler, watercolor in Stillman and Birn Delta sketchbook, 9″ x 12″

Bay-breasted Warbler, male - at 72 dpi

Male Bay-breasted Warbler, watercolor in Stillman and Birn Delta sketchbook, 9″ x 12″

With so many birds to sketch and all of them moving about, I content myself with pencil studies, observing with binoculars.  It’s a challenging way to draw, and demands all the visual memory I can muster.   With species I haven’t drawn recently, I have to re-learn the field marks – struggling to get all those stripes, spots and bars in just the right places.

Blackbunian female - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study, 3.5″ x 5″

A female Blackburnian Warbler is a nice surprise on the Warbler Trail.  No male “fire-throat” today, but the female’s throat has a lovely bright apricot color.

Soloman Seal at Marblehead Neck - at 72 dpi

Up ‘til now, the morning has been gray and overcast, but at 2 pm the sun breaks out and the day warms quickly.  Birdsong tapers off and the action slows.   On my way back to the parking area, I give my “warbler’s neck” a rest, and admire a patch of Solomon ’s Seal that forms an attractive pattern on the forest floor.

 

Monarch Butterflies at the Museum of American Bird Art

Monarch butterflies arrived in the middle of July and taken up residence in the meadow at the Museum of American Bird Art. So far, I’ve counted 4 adults in the meadow at once, with one or two butterflies present on most days. They have been laying lots of eggs on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and these have been hatching over the past two weeks. I’ve counted around 20 or so eggs and found 6 caterpillars munching away on milkweed. Monarch caterpillars only eat plants in the milkweed genus (Asclepias) and common milkweed is by far their most important host plant. Approximately 90% of migrating North American monarchs eat common milkweed as caterpillars. I will post updates on monarchs periodically, but wanted to share photos and time lapse videos about the monarchs at MABA. Further, some background information about their migration and conservation can be found at end of this post, including two tremendous Mass Audubon resources.

Monarch Butterfly Eggs

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Look at the beautiful sculpturing that is present on this teeny tiny egg. Once the caterpillars hatch, voracious consumption of milkweed ensures. Check out these time lapse videos.

Adult Monarchs Nectaring At Joe Pye Weed

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Current Status of the North American Monarch Butterfly

In North America, monarch butterfly populations have dramatically declined over the past 20 years, with the population hitting their lowest total ever in the winter 2013-2014. However, Chip Taylor, professor at University of Kansas and founder of Monarch Watch, is guardedly optimistic about this years monarch population.

Where do Monarch Butterflies Spend the Winter?

The majority of North American Monarch Butterflies spend the winter in the pine and oyamel trees located at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve on the border of Michoacan and Mexico State, Mexico. Monarch butterflies in the Pacific Northwest typically overwinter in trees along the California Coast and there is some evidence that Monarch Butterflies in the Northeastern United States also overwinter in Cuba in addition to Mexico. Check out this fantastic video by MonarchWatch.org of the forests in Mexico where monarchs will spend the winter before migrating back North.

 

Citizen Science Opportunities:
Check out this map of 2015 monarch butterfly and caterpillar sightings. Here are MABA, I report our sightings to this organization to be part of this national citizen science project. Email me, skent@massaudubon.org, if you’d like more information.

Resources to learn more about Monarch Butterflies: