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Mass Exodus [For Immediate Release]

September 8, 2010

Today was one of those days, when “those” means completely average.  Well, except the surprise of a beautiful Philadelphia Vireo at one of my point count sites.  I mean, once I got to work it was completely predictable.

Until mid-day when my inbox lit up with new email:  a post to the Nocturnal Flight Call  listserve!  I didn’t hesitate to read it.

Good choice on my part. This wasn’t something to wait on until later, until a better time.  This was for immediate release. The entire post built to these prophetic words,

Everything I know suggests to me that tonight (and tomorrow night) look to be huge nocturnal flights across northeastern US. The spring is set as tight as for any early September night I’ve seen in the past 20 years. Theoretically there is an uncommonly large number of birds ready to fly, and we are in the time when peak numbers of neotropical migrants typically move across the region.

(Full post available from

There are two things that need explanation:

  1. The “I” in “Everything I know” is Bill Evans, the nocturnal flight call guru.  He has as much experience as anyone alive in reading the signs of migration.
  2. “The spring is set” refers to more than a week of unfavorable migration conditions, meaning birds have been lingering, waiting for the winds to shift.  And tonight, it is predicted, is that night. It is, as Bill wrote, “potentially a movement of relatively large & perhaps historic proportions.”

It is just past the end of civil twilight here in the southern tier o f NY, 8:15(-ish) PM EDT.  My microphone is in place and the recording unit turned on at 7:58 PM.  The sky is filled with clouds, the wind is blowing from the west.  Internet radar sites are showing circular patterns surrounding many radar sites in the northeast, indicating birds taking off from their stopover sites and taking to the air.

Radar image 08 September 2010, 20:00:00.

Radar image at the end of civil twilight, 08 September 2010 (click for larger image). The blue circles over New England and the Ohio Valley are birds taking to the sky. Radar image from RAP Real-time Weather.

If Bill’s prediction comes to pass, anyone recording the northeastern night sky should have a very active night of calls to wade through in the morning, everything from Veery and Swainson’s Thrush to Blackpoll, Tennessee, and Bay-breasted Warblers.  And much, much more.

I’ll be outside “live-listening” in an hour or so, and I’d encourage you to do the same.  Don’t worry about identifying what you’re hearing (I don’t, that’s what spectrograms are for!), just enjoy the wonderment of thousands of birds flying overhead, under the cover of darkness, winging their way to their wintering grounds.

UPDATED 09 September 2010

The Morning After

My outside listening was for naught:  nothing but wind rustling leaves from where I stood in our yard.  The recording was reasonable, but the ambient sound created a lot of background noise.  There are calls in there, but they’re not pretty.  Bottom line: the movement was better than the norm — lots of thrushes, a good smattering of warblers – but not as mind-bending as it could have been.  Maybe tonight . . . .

UPDATED 10 September 2010

Two Days Later

Two days late is better than never!  The skies are really alive over the twin tiers (southern tier of New York and northern tier of  Pennsylvania), as this radar image of shows.

Radar image 10 September 2010, 22:00:00

Standing out in the backyard just now (10:17 EDT) my wife and I heard at least twenty different birds, mostly Swainson’s Thrush and Veery. Birders in PA and south, you should have a great morning tomorrow!

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