First swallow of spring

Tree Swallow
Tree Swallow. Photo: Patrice Bouchard, Unsplash

On the last day of winter, I saw my first Tree Swallow of the year. It flew beside the James River in the direction of Jamestown Island.

Sociable birds with an iridescent sheen that babble and chatter all day, these swallows sometimes breed in our nestboxes.

Silent winter’s end

Tree swallows dance through the sky

Spring’s symphony begins.

(A haiku)

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.

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