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Birding: BirdCast website allows you to monitor nocturnal migration

A hermit thrush browses at the Viles Arboretum in Augusta. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Spring migration is going full bore right now with most of our warblers, vireos, thrushes, tanagers, and lots of other perching birds near their migratory peak.

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has a fantastic new tool to monitor bird migration. BirdCast takes advantage of radar scans to determine the density of nocturnal migrants anywhere in the continental United States.

You can find the BirdCast website at birdcast.info.

Scroll down a bit to the Migration Dashboard box, enter the state or county of interest and click Search.

As I write this column on May 1, I see from the Migration Dashboard that 548,600 birds have crossed Maine tonight so far. Over 3.4 million birds are now in flight over Maine, making it look like one of the three heaviest spring migration nights.

You can see the value of this BirdCast tool for letting you know when a hot morning of birding awaits, or perhaps when you might want to catch a few more winks because few migrants are passing through. The Migration Dashboard provides other interesting data like flight direction and speed, altitude, and a cumulative plot of all the birds that have crossed Maine (or any other state) this spring.

MAINE BREEDING BIRD ATLAS

Where does the time go? It seems that the Maine Breeding Bird Atlas project has just gotten started. Actually, it kicked off in 2018 and we are now in our fifth and final year of this project to document the distribution of Maine breeding birds at a fine scale.

Despite the challenges of COVID during the 2020 and 2021 seasons, we have made great progress in completing many of the priority blocks, particularly in the southern half of the state. The priority blocks, each about 9 square miles in area, are distributed throughout Maine to ensure the state is sampled thoroughly.

However, 303 priority blocks are not yet completed. Twenty hours of observations are required to complete a block. Many of these blocks have received some sampling and I hope you will consider adopting one or more of these blocks. You can see a map of the incomplete priority blocks at the Atlas Blockbusters website. Click on a block to see how many hours are required to complete the block.

Some species run the risk of being under sampled because of their secretive nature, dense habitats, or nocturnal activity. Two initiatives address these species and volunteers are needed.

The Maine Nightjar Monitoring Project is designed to sample whip-poor-wills and common nighthawks, two species that are declining in Maine. Volunteers travel along a prescribed route at dusk and on moon-lit nights listening for these species (as well as owls and any other vocalizing birds). Routes that need to be filled are in Biddeford, Burlington, Exeter, Island Falls, Greene, Greenwood, Lakeville, Medford, North Berwick, St. Albans, and Sumner.

You can learn more about the program at mainenightjar.com. To sign up, contact Logan Parker at [email protected]

Marsh Bird Surveys target nine species of marshland birds. These species are pied-billed grebe, American bittern, least bittern, green heron, Virginia rail, sora, American coot, common gallinule and sedge wren. All of these birds are more easily identified by sound rather than sight in their dense habitats.

Observers play recordings of each species and listen for responses. Each marsh is sampled three times: once in the last half of May, once in the first half of June and once in the second half of June.

Two hundred marshes were randomly chosen throughout Maine. To see which marshes need to be adopted, visit the Maine Natural History Observatory website. Some marshes can be sampled from the edges; others require a canoe or kayak.

At that website, you can learn more about the details of the sampling protocol. To sign up, email Glen Mittelhauser at [email protected] and put Water Bird Survey in the subject line.

Herb Wilson taught ornithology and other biology courses at Colby College. He welcomes reader comments and questions at [email protected]


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