Sunday, January 29, 2012

A migrant’s hello from Ecuador

Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)
near Santa Lucia Bosque Nublado, Ecuador

My favorite time of year in New York was always the first two weeks of May. Early mornings before work, afternoons after work, and pretty much every minute of the weekends were spent combing Central Park for migratory birds that were passing through on their way to their breeding grounds.

Blackburnian Warbler (Dendroica fusca)
near Santa Lucia Bosque Nublado, Ecuador. I first saw the species at
the Point in Central Park in the first week of May.

After the cold of winter and the ever-so-slowly warming temperatures of March and April, the first two weeks of May brought mild temperatures before the heat of summer. But most importantly, they brought warblers, orioles, thrushes, vireos, gnatcatchers, grosbeaks, hummingbirds, and other sharply dressed birds. Sometimes hoards of them.

Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus) near Santa Lucia Bosque
Nublado, Ecuador. I first saw the species in Central Park's North Woods
in the second week of May.

Journeys of some birds take them across continents, seas, and in some cases, oceans in search of food and nesting space. When the cold in the North approaches, many species begin their travels to warmer climates in search of fruits, flowers, and insects that have disappeared from their breeding grounds. When the Northern spring and summer approaches, the birds make their way North in pursuit of flowers, fruits, and insects that are now becoming available. They breed, raise their young, and when the time comes, head back South. It is not the weather birds are necessarily chasing but the availability of food.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) near Santa Lucia
Bosque Nublado, Ecuador, with a nonmigratory Blue-grey Tanager.
I first saw it in Central Park's Tupelo Meadow in the last week of April.

Conservation of migratory birds is incredibly complex because it not only requires a bird’s breeding habitat and wintering habitat, but plenty of suitable stopover points in between. Migratory birds transcend borders, defying political lines drawn on a map. It means that if you want warblers in spring, you have to be concerned about many places.

Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) in Maquipucuna Reserve, Ecuador.
I first saw the species in Central Park's Strawberry Fields in the last week
of April. The individual pictured above could be a resident; the taxonomy
of the red-eyed vireo is very complicated.

There are great resources on migration, so I won’t go any deeper than one last personal experience. The bird in the first picture, the Summer Tanager, is not a common migrant to Central Park. It breeds in the southern United States, reaching the bottom of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Before the last couple months, I had seen one male one time, in the first two weeks of May (May 6, 2009) in what is called an overshoot (where a migratory bird flies past its general range). It had already been a great day, but I had heard that a summer tanager had been spotted a few times over on the west side of the park. I walked by a very famous “Imagine” seal and into the lawn of Strawberry Fields. It was getting closer to dark, but a few lingering birders were searching. A man sitting on a bench with a guitar strummed and sang Beatles and John Lennon songs. I lost track of the time in the songs, but as the number of birders dropped and the light began to fade, I finally spotted one male summer tanager at the top of a tree.

Summer Tanager again, the same individual as pictured above. I first
saw the species in the first week of May in Central Park's Strawberry Fields.

New Yorkers, and the rest of you shivering birders, enjoy these pictures until the migrants return!

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