BIRD WATCH: Spring winds provide easy power for migrant travelers overhead

MARCH WASN’T EXACTLY lamb-like when it was leaving, and I’m hoping April will forget about bringing showers.

Not only was the month of March just plain wet, it was windy.

That I try to accept for only one reason: Those low-pressure systems that sweep through the Northwest every spring are free fuel for migrating birds.

The migrants working their way up the West Coast don’t start traveling when the wind begins to blow.

They sense when a low begins to build and get moving so as to benefit from its full effect.

This is most evident on those mornings when we wake up to blue skies and gusty “breezes” out of the south.

That’s when there are often some different birds in the yard, the birdbath or on the feeders.

Songbirds, known as passerines, move under cover of darkness.

Songbirds aren’t the only travelers moving into and through this region. The raptors are also on the wing.

When you are prey for these hawks, traveling at night is safer.

Sometimes, on moonlit nights, it is possible to spot the nocturnal travelers. When flocks or small groups pass overhead, the moonlight gives them away.

This is more common in different parts of the country depending on how heavily the different migration routes are used.

The Mississippi River is a great funnel for migrating birds. In the fall, thousands if not millions travel its length.

I’ve seen this once. It was a captivating experience. The skies seemed full of swallows, blackbirds, grackles and others. The moonlight parade went on for hours.

In the Pacific Northwest, our dense forests and overall greenery plus the lights of many cities and towns make it more difficult to enjoy this avian parade, but it does happen.

Maybe in the coming weeks, clear skies will provide the opportunity to see who is passing by — or coming to stay.

April is right in the center of swelling migration numbers. There will be growing numbers of swallows, warblers, flycatchers and vireos arriving. Many will be heard calling territorially toward the end of the month.

While we are waiting for these summer residents from Mexico and Central America to arrive and add their color to the Northwest, we are also bidding farewell to other birds.

During April, the golden-crowned sparrows and fox sparrows begin slipping away.

Varied thrush leave lowland wintering grounds and move to the deeper forests and higher elevations.

Out on the water, courting displays hint that waterfowl will soon head to their northern nesting grounds.

Bufflehead and goldeneye ducks, along with the grebes, mergansers and loons, are some of the species getting excited about heading north to raise their families.

If you take some time to check the water near home, you stand a good chance of seeing several of these species change from winter plumage to breeding plumage.

Many look like completely different birds, very attractive birds.

All of the ducks are entertaining when they splash about, toss their heads or pump their bills up and down.

Scoters are among the best when their numbers are large enough to encourage spirited competition.

The males chase each other in all directions while beating the water with their wings. Instead of chasing away the competition, they appear to be dashing here and there without accomplishing anything.

That’s the way the ladies seem to see it. They keep out of the way and look totally uninterested.

Spring winds are a little easier to tolerate when we keep in mind they are providing free energy to millions of wings now on the move.

When I tap the barometer and see it dip again, I’ll try not to grumble.

For the creatures moving north under their own power, this is a good thing.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: [email protected].

More in Life

Blacklight dodgeball, deep sea geology, plays, dances lined up on Peninsula

Blacklight dodgeball, deep sea geology, and plays and dances are among the… Continue reading

ISSUES OF FAITH: All a part of the divine plan

IT IS A story that goes all the way back to the… Continue reading

Young Artist Competitions set for Saturday in Port Angeles

The music of Vivaldi, Bach and Lalo, plus Severn’s… Continue reading

Drennan & Ford kicks off ninth ‘Operation Valentine’ program

Drennan & Ford Funeral Home and Crematory has started… Continue reading

PHOTO: Drilling in the basics at ROTC competition in Port Angeles

Members of the Port Angeles High School Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training… Continue reading

THE COOKING HOBBYIST: Always be sure you have a complete recipe

THIS IS MY 12th monthly cooking column. It’s hard to believe I’ve… Continue reading

HORSEPLAY: Now is the time to prepare for an emergency

WE LIVE IN an era when we are constantly told to be… Continue reading

HELP LINE: Tax-Aide volunteers preparing to provide help

PRESUMABLY, MOST OF us have the holidays behind us. OK, true, there… Continue reading

A GROWING CONCERN: Learning to prune with confidence

ONCE AGAIN, YOU, the gardeners of the Olympic Peninsula, have been amazing… Continue reading

Most Read