Monday, 2 July 2018

Fall Migration 2018


Migrants feeding @ Long Beach 2017
In the coming weeks ahead an epic movement of bodies will take place, no passport, no green cards, and no visas will hinder their progress.  It is a movement that has been taking please for thousands of years, burning invisible pathways all across the Americas, continent to continent, island to island, by these experienced and inexperienced travelers.  I am speaking of course about the annual fall bird migration, the movement of birds from breeding grounds in North America to the Caribbean, South and Central America, to take advantage of the abundant food supply.  Barbados is used as a stopover point, especially during bad weather, or a winter home for these birds.   My favorite birding time of the year!!

Food Supply
Chancery Lane Swamp late June 2018

The wet areas on the island are not ready for these migrants this early.  Most of them, except for a few private impoundments, depend on rainwater as a life source and even though we are in the rainy season we have seen very little rain thus far.  For example Chancery Lane, one of our major water areas is like a desert. I visited it on June 28th hoping to see and photograph a pair of Willets I saw there a week or two earlier but they were no longer there.  Very little water was there.  The skeletons of fish and Fiddler Crabs were littered across the dry water beds.  This dryness is somewhat normal but as the weeks go on the rains will come.
Another source of food for these wonders come from an unlikely source.  In the last few years the new norm for countries of the Caribbean at this time of the year is Sargassum seaweed beaches.  The destructive nature of this seaweed is well documented and clear to see.  But something I noticed a few years ago, the seaweed, well really, its byproducts such as the flies, maggots and small crustacean and fish,  became a food source for more than 15 species of birds, a much needed refueling point for these migrants as more and more conventional sources continue to disappear, for one reason or the other.  

My Migration 2018 Bucket list 

There are a few birds that I am hoping to see and photograph this season.
  • Upland Sandpiper – (late August – mid October) since I began birding in 2012 I have only seen this bird once in 2013.  2016 was good for this bird but sadly not for me, I am hoping 2018 would be better.
  • Wilson’s Phalarope – (November) another one timer for me with not the best pics.  My hope is for good sighting and photographs.
  • Prothonotary Warbler – (late October – mid November) I thought I saw this bird in 2014 but was unable to confirm.
  • American Wigeon – I have not seen this bird in over 2 years.
  • Any lifers or rare birds.

The dangers

The trips of these travelers may sound like a romantic story but migration has many dangers both natural and manmade. 
For example:
  • Bad Weather – can force birds down from the sky into the sea where they drown.  It is not uncommon to see birds washing up on beaches after bad weather during the migration period.  
  • Starvation – birds can burn reserve fat while battling bad weather and may starve.
  • Collisions – many birds are lost by colliding with buildings, wind mills etc.
  • Hunting – bird hunting is still practiced in many Caribbean and South American countries including ours.
  • Loss of adequate stop over areas – many bird areas are being developed, thus leaving no green spaces or wet spaces and removing century old roosting and feeding areas.
The issue of migrants, human migrants, is very visible in the news today. This highlights the importance of this epic annual journey of birds, which goes by almost unnoticed and without fanfare.  We can learn a lot from the birds.