Apr 30 2009

Here They Come! or What to Look For in Early May

Published by at 7:03 am under Phenology

Prairie Warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)The beginning of May is a birder’s paradise in eastern North America. 

Spring migration was exciting at the end of April but it runs full force when the trees leaf out in early May. 

What had been a trickle of warblers turns into a torrent.  First-of-year sightings (“I saw my first hummingbird”) give way to contests for the number of species seen in a single day (“I saw 75.” “Well, I saw 102.”). 

Pittsburgh birders move with the birds.  In early May we hug the southern shore of Lake Erie, watching migrants as they pause to eat and regain energy before crossing the lake to Canada.  The lake is a barrier so they aggregate in a few hot spots – especially Magee Marsh and Presque Isle State Park.

There is so much to see!  Birds migrating and nesting, new butterflies and moths, more wildflowers blooming.  Chuck Tague made a list of what to expect.  I tried to summarize below, but it’s hard to be brief about May.

  • The trees leaf out.  Pollen counts are up.  Gesundheit!
  • Birds, birds and more birds! 
    • My favorite reds, oranges and blues: scarlet tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, Baltimore oriole, indigo bunting, cerulean warblers. 
    • Every thrush is a favorite: Swainsons thrush, wood thrush, veery and hermit thrush.  The gray-cheeked thrush comes last, later in May.
    • Warblers and vireos galore!  My favorite ovenbirds, redstarts, Blackburnians, Canadas, black-throated blues and prothonotary warblers.  Prairie warblers (pictured here), bay-breasted and chestnut-sided warblers.  Vireos of many kinds: red-eyed, white-eyed, blue-headed, yellow-throated and warbling.  So many yellow warblers they become boring.  (Imagine being bored by a warbler!)
  • Nesting everywhere.  The first robins fledge, the killdeer hatch, blue-gray gnatcatchers lay eggs.  Too many to list.
  • Baby bunnies and mammals
  • Moths and butterflies
  • More flowers…

But in early May I only have eyes for birds.

(Prairie Warbler photo by Chuck Tague)

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