May 2, 2013

Waves of Warblers: A Phenologcal Guide to New England Songbirds

Migrants arrive in New England like passing waves. The species that winter closer to New England (further north) in places like Northern Mexico, Texas, Florida, and Virginia have a shorter distance to travel to get here so naturally arrive earlier than their long distance cousins from South America and the Lesser Antilles. Knowing to predict what species are in each of these waves is a trick of long time bird watchers. Traditionally utilizing their own notebooks from year to year this process is often made into a personal eye-spy game or "first of the year" though we can now utilize online forums or explore data on e-bird to learn about timing in our area without having a personal memory. 

The timing of things is a fascinating topic and the study of timing in the natural world is called phenology (not to be confused with the creepy and racially slanted, pseudo science of phRenology). I'd encourage everyone to keep a careful journal of "first of the years" or as my mentor Nancy called it "signs of Spring". Consider the first Red-winged blackbird, calling Woodcock, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Spring pepper, crocus, Sugar maple bud, Black-and-white Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, or any other sign of spring that most warms your heart. 

For the next few weeks I will be posting brief lists of the species to be looking for (and studying in your field guide and audio tapes) as spring comes crashing down on our New England shores. 

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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact:

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