By the time you are reading this story the bird parade will be at its peak. Spring migration is one of the biggest parades on earth. It begins in February and carries on until the month of June. As Ken and Kimberly Kaufmann recently wrote, “every year, a grand parade sweeps northward across the continent.” It is a time when vast numbers of birds spread out “from coast to coast, and even offshore.” (Birds and Blooms, February 2019).
We, on the Peninsula, have indeed been seeing the beginning of the procession because some birds come early, while others come much later. To date red-winged blackbirds seem to have led the way, as they traditionally do in North America. Again as the Kaufmann’s (2019) indicate, they are among the toughest of the birds. They are adaptable and are quite able to withstand cold snaps as they move north from the southern states. We have been seeing them since February.
As I have written recently, one of our earliest migrants is the rufous hummingbird. It winters in Mexico and arrived on the Peninsula in early March. More recently, the ducks and other waterfowl have been on the move. I have been seeing northern pintails, mallards and American wigeon in increasing larger numbers as the days as spring emerged. The trumpeter swans have been here, but are now gone. Gone to their northern breeding grounds. Soon, these and other ducks will be few and far between as they too move north to their breeding grounds. We won’t see them in large numbers again until they begin their trek south to their wintering grounds. And remember the Sandhill cranes? They arrive early. I hope that you were able to get to the Lower River Road in Vancouver, Wash., to experience their elegant dance.
Sparrows have been arriving for a while now. The native fox sparrow, for example, has been with us for some time on the Peninsula in larger numbers than I remember from previous years. I love to watch them scratch in the leaf litter and other decaying debris along woodland edges and roadsides for insects and seeds. They never wander far from the dense shrubbery of our backyards. Protection is important to them. Watch them as you approach, they will quickly dash into the underbrush to avoid the threat they may think you pose.
The excitement of migration is highest when the small songbirds such as warblers begin arriving from the tropics. Since they rely on insects for their meals they wait for the warmer weather before they make their appearance. May is the month when we can expect to see them. Accompanying them will be other songbirds like the Swainson’s thrush, Savannah sparrow, black-headed grosbeak, western tanager and purple martins. The latest spring migrants to return to our area are the flycatchers. Olive-sided, Pacific slope and the willow flycatchers will all appear closer to the end of May and early June. Their primary meals consist of insects so they arrive when the weather is warmer and insects can be seen in the air. The aerial antics of flycatchers are a sight to behold. It is bird entertainment at its best.
The cast of shorebirds changes monthly. You will see many different acts with new characters throughout spring migration. Late March and April, for example, bring us greater yellowlegs, dunlins arrive in larger numbers in May, while ruddy turnstones are more likely to be seen in early June.
Spring migration brings the promise of entertainment. It too is one of the greatest shows on earth. Be watchful for the next few weeks. You won’t be sorry!
”Common Birds of the Long Beach Peninsula,” by Kalbach and Stauffer, is available from the Chinook Observer, Bay Avenue Gallery, Time Enough Books and the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau.