For the Birds Radio Program: Migration Update
This week I went out with my birding friend Mike Hendrickson to see what birds were about at Park Point. We were both hoping for interesting gulls and shorebirds, but other than a loon, some Common Mergansers, and a good sized flock of Ring-billed Gulls, we didn’t get much in the waterbird department.
But lots of warblers were passing through town. I heard some seeping calls early this morning as birds were descending from the sky after a night’s journey—it always seems a beautiful mystery how such tiny birds can travel so far in the dark, using celestial navigation. When I got to work in downtown Duluth, one of my friends took me to the tiny carcasses of an American Redstart and a Tennessee Warbler on a sidewalk on First Avenue East. The birds had crashed into windows of a fairly short building—only 4 stories—probably as they were coming down for a landing this morning. These poor things coming from forests hundreds of miles north of here may never in their lives have encountered a building until that final moment.
But most of the birds passing through do so without dying, and Park Point was pretty much teeming with them. Lots of redstarts, yellow-rumps, and Palm Warblers, and plenty of other birds—Solitary and Red-eyed Vireos, Swainson’s Thrush, and here and there a Tennessee. I had a possible Blue-winged Warbler—Mike was sidetracked by a dragonfly and the bird flew off before I saw it in its entirety, though I did get a better look than, say, a video of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
It’s a quiet time of year, but some of the birds were calling. Loudest was a Belted Kingfisher that whipped by at top speed. Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers made plenty of chips. I recognize them by their tisking quality: yellow-rumps sound like annoyed math teachers while Palm Warblers sound like annoyed music teachers. It’s a subtle difference, but maybe because I once taught math and music, I can distinguish them fairly easily. Mike and I both heard an odd, quiet sound, almost gnatcatcher-like. It was a baby Red-eyed Vireo, sitting not so patiently reminding its parents that it wanted food. As we watched, one of the parents flew up to it and gave it a mouthful of bugs. A distant Cedar Waxwing was also making its sibilant whisper call, like a mouse snoring.
I couldn’t help but think as I watched these tiny migrants that many of them are headed down to the Gulf right now. If passing through Duluth is dangerous, I don’t even want to imagine what it’s going to be like trying to negotiate all the toxins they’ll be dealing with in a few days. But many of them will make it.