On April 30, I said to my wife, Janet, something like, “Well, tomorrow’s the first of May – the blue jays ought to be arriving soon.”
The following morning, there were at least a dozen blue jays around the feeders when there had only been a pair up till that time.
Blue jays are semi-migratory. Those that migrate do so in loose flocks and they faithfully return in early May. As I’ve stated before, the timing of migration for any given species remains amazingly constant over the years because it’s triggered by day length. And nothing is more predictable than day length. When there’s deviation from the normal schedule, it’s usually because of adverse weather.
I’m writing this on Tuesday, and the strong north winds of the past week have definitely kept many species south of here well beyond their expected arrival times. The only warblers I’ve seen so far are the ubiquitous yellow-rumped warbler and a few palm and orange-crowned warblers. Nary a Baltimore oriole or rose-breasted grosbeak to be had and just one or two eastern phoebes. I can’t recall such a late migration.
But I think things are about to change. A sudden shift of winds to southeast today should unleash a major flight of birds tonight. Depending on how far south the migrants are bottled up, they could largely overshoot the Park Rapids area. But the combination of wind direction, warmer temperatures and a rain system coming in has me anticipating a major fallout here tomorrow morning with a cacophony of bird song everywhere.
I expect maybe a dozen species of warblers, lots of swallows and flycatchers and vireos of various kinds, as well as the grosbeaks, orioles and maybe a scarlet tanager.
The weather Wednesday morning was gloomy, with sprinkles and birds were hard to identify due to lack of light. But nonetheless there was a good fallout of some of the earlier expected migrants between 8 and 9 a.m. – lots of orange-crowned warblers mixed with yellow-rumped warblers and several new arrivals like black and white, Nashville, and black-throated green warblers, and one ovenbird (also a warbler), a total of nine warblers.
I saw one blue-headed vireo, always the first of the vireos to arrive, and later in the day a rose-breasted grosbeak at the feeder and a male and female Baltimore oriole. So not as impressive as I had hoped, but still a good showing for those willing to sit out in the mist.
These are tough times for all of us, as the coronavirus has been rearing its ugly head in all the surrounding counties. Unless we’re extraordinarily lucky, it’s just a matter of time before it gets here, so please take the recommended precautions and stay safe.
If you’re suffering from anxiety over this, perhaps the constancy and predictability of the bird life around us can provide some comfort and reassurance that we’ll eventually return to a more “normal” kind of existence.
The fact that we live in such a rural area is a great bonus for us, because we can go out birding in so many areas here without risking close contact with others. I recommend you do this as much as possible, not only to escape the drudgery and frustration of sheltering in place, but also to keep your birding skills razor-sharp. There’s never been a better time.
Marshall Howe is a retired biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He specialized in bird population studies. Howe has been a Park Rapids resident since 2010.