Tracking Whimbrel

Whimbrel on the beach
Photo: Inge Curtis

An elegant shorebird with a lovely piping call of the wild. After they leave their breeding grounds in the tundra,  Whimbrels stop to feed on fiddler crabs in the mudflats of the Eastern Shore of Virginia. By October, they leave here for wintering grounds in the Caribbean basin and South America. The journey is thought to be along the Western Atlantic Flyway with other shorebirds, including Red Knot.

Dominion Energy is planning to build wind turbines about 23 nautical miles off our shores as a major contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To study the risks for migratory birds, the Nature Conservancy and the Center for Conservation Biology have attached GPS transmitters and altimeters to 15 whimbrels this year for mapping their route(s) on fall and spring migrations. Planners will be relieved if the birds avoid the wind farm and fly higher than the towering turbines.    

Night Flight

Barth Bailey (Unsplash)

Do you fly at night sometimes? I flew in my dreams last night with arms outstretched for gliding over rooftops. I didn’t see any birds although on landing back in reality in the morning I learned that an estimated 10,400 birds had flown across James City county overnight. They headed ESE at an average speed of 14 mph.

The fall migration begins in August for some birds, including green herons, yellowthroat warblers, and the scarlet tanagers that were featured in last week’s post. Normally active by day, they migrate at night for safety. The numbers passing through surged between 10 and 11 pm, flying at 1,500 feet, although nocturnal migrants sometimes fly up to 10,000 feet to save more energy.

I checked other counties I know. Over 64,000 birds flew SSE down the Appalachian chain at around 3,000 feet across Pocahontas county, WV. If you live in the United States, you can check the spring and fall migrations in your country from radar records at The BirdCast Migration Dashboard.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow
Photo: Inge Curtis

These plump sparrows arrive in late fall and are still here, waiting for an impulse to fly to their breeding range in northern states and Canada. White-throated sparrows peck under the feeder for food spilled by Cardinals and others from sorting through the seed mix for favorites. They are more welcome for not being shy. Of the two morphs, we usually have the kind with a white head stripe instead of tan-colored. A yellow dot behind the bill is cute.

This is my first post since the war began in Ukraine, unusual for me to have inertia in writing.

The war is building a new wall between nations West and East. Migrating birds take no notice of it and people on either side offer them the same welcome. Not so many birds migrate between the Russian Federation and North America or Western Europe, but some waterbirds do, notably the Brant Goose (called Brent in Europe and the UK). They fly back and forth across national borders year after year. Makes me think of Noah’s dove that went forth and returned with an olive leaf.

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