Thursday, April 30, 2009

Monarch Butterflies

(Photo courtesy of

Birds aren't the only thing on the wing these days. The Monarch butterflies are making their annual journey north from Mexico. The following update is courtesy of Journey North:

An unusally warm air mass spread across the eastern half of the United States and southern Canada during the past week. Northern regions were even warmer than Texas!

Monarchs flew and blew northward with this warm air according to our observers. They entered four new states on that single day. People everywhere were surprised by the monarchs' early arrival and amazing ability to find milkweed:

* While students were outside during a fire drill at Washington School in Summit, New Jersey, they spotted a monarch laying eggs in the school butterfly garden!
* An astonishing 125 eggs were layed in a butterfly garden in Pennsylvania on milkweed that was only 3 inches tall.
* Students in Bridgewater and Somerville, New Jersey both saw their first monarchs this week. "This is so early for us and so exciting," said teacher Cathy Griffin.
* Add six news states to your list! Monarchs have moved into Indiana, Ohio, Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Predict: When will monarchs appear in the first Canadian Province?

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Whoopers

Not only are the songbirds heading north, but so are the Whooping Cranes! Since 1999, Wisconsin has played a major role in efforts to restore a migratory whooping crane population in eastern North America, with a core breeding area in Wisconsin. Prior to these restoration efforts, only one migratory population of whooping cranes existed in the wild, and any catastrophic event could completely eliminate the species. An additional independent population of birds needed to be established to reduce the risk of extinction of this endangered bird. Wisconsin DNR is a founding member of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, a large group of nine government and private sector organizations, with the mission of restoring a second self-sustaining migratory population.

Whooping Crane - Photo by Ryan Hagerty, USFWS

Two release methods are being used to rebuild the population. Initially, all captive-reared crane chicks were conditioned to follow an ultralight aircraft from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in central Wisconsin to Chassahowitzka NWR on the Gulf coast of Florida. These birds then make the return and subsequent migrations south unaided.

According to Journey North, the first EIGHT ultralight-led whooping cranes from the Class of 2008 arrived back in Wisconsin April 16! Back home are #804, #814 and #818; and the St. Marks cranes #805, #812, #828, #829 and #830 (minus 826 and 813). Juveniles 803, 824, and 827 were still in Georgia (presumably together), where flooding has created good crane habitat.

On April 14 Wisconsin teacher/craniac Darlene Lambert saw four whooping cranes at Necedah Wildlife Refuge.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spring 2009 Newsletter

The Spring 2009 Newsletter of Rainforest Biodiversity Group is now available online:

Migration Update

We're still keeping a close watch on the northward migration of songbirds and here is the latest update, courtesy of Journey North (

A couple of back-to-back storm systems produced more fallouts over the past week, especially over Easter weekend. Bird watchers along the Texas coast went out immediately after storms passed by on April 12th. The storms hit right around the time many migrants were arriving from the tropics, so the people were rewarded with many migrants that were forced to land. Cerulean Warblers, Indigo Buntings, and Painted Buntings were particularly numerous. The hawk watching station in Corpus Christi I mentioned last week reported 11,000 Broad-winged Hawks, 1,000 Turkey Vultures, and 1,000 Mississippi Kites! Hawk watchers reported that the day was long, but fun.

Cerulean Warbler -

Numbers were good elsewhere along the Gulf Coast. One person spent an entire day walking a 7-mile trail in Louisiana and counted 290 White-eyed Vireos, 280 Prothonotary Warblers, 250 Red-eyed Vireos, 250 Common Yellowthroats, and 170 Hooded Warblers!!! Birders along the Alabama coast reported hundreds of Scarlet Tanagers, and 21 species of warblers.There was enough of a break between storm systems to allow migrants to make some progress north before being grounded again. Washington, DC reported Northern Parulas, Black-and-white Warblers, Ovenbirds, Common Yellowthroats, and Louisiana Waterthrushes.

Pennsylvania recorded its first Blue-headed Vireos, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, and Yellow-throated Warblers of the season.By the beginning of this week, the Easter system had moved far enough east to allow birds to move. People in Missouri reported their first White-eyed Vireos and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Iowa had Yellow-throated Warblers and Black-and-white Warblers, and the swallows have made it to Minnesota.Like the previous week, the western states have had a consistent movement of birds through the region. The most numerous species reported was Orange-crowned Warbler, but New Mexico, Arizona, and California all reported decent numbers of Western Kingbirds, Lucy's Warblers, and Wilson's Warblers. Black-headed Grosbeaks have also started showing up in California.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Third Annual RBG Bird-a-Thon

What better way to celebrate the birds returning, and the weather getting warm, than by having a big day of birding! Rainforest Biodiversity Group is holding its 3rd Annual Bird-a-Thon fundraiser.

How does the Bird-a-Thon work? Birders volunteer on May 9 to identify (see or hear) as many species of birds during that day as possible. Each birder secures pledges for their individual birding effort. Donors can either pledge a certain amount per bird species seen or heard, or they can simply make a flat donation to support their birder. By donating $0.10/0.25/0.50 (or more!) a bird species, we will be well on our way!

Any donor who contributes a minimum of $50.00 will receive the Bird-a-Thon t-shirt! Each participating birder will also get this free t-shirt!
To participate in this event, as either a birder or a sponsor, please contact Holly Robertson at

Funds raised will go to supporting the Costa Rican Bird Route project. The Costa Rican Bird Route is an eco-tourism initiative designed to give local landowners an incentive to use their land sustainably. Funds raised from the Bird-a-Thon will be used to continue our monitoring and education efforts within the communities of the Bird Route. It is important to be staying in contact with our landowners, providing them support, information, and resources, helping them to better understand what sustainability means for them and the environment.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Tracking the MIgration

Spring is an exciting time, as we watch and listen for all those familiar birds to return from their winter stay in the tropics. Here in Madison, we have American Robins in the trees and Common Loons on the lake, the first arrivals of the spring. But soon they will be joined by lots of other songbirds, journeying, even as I type, across the gulf and northward.

The biggest fallout occurred along the Alabama coast. A bird bander working down there banded 1,000 birds over the weekend! Yesterday on the Texas coast, birders reported large numbers of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, White-eyed Vireos, Common Yellowthroats, Gray Catbirds, and Orchard Orioles, and smaller numbers of Hooded Warblers, Black-throated-green Warblers, Nashville Warblers, and many other species.

Species that had arrived previously took advantage of the good weather to continue their journey, with hundreds to thousands of Tree Swallows reported in Delaware, New York, and Ohio, and the first arrivals of Yellow-throated Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers in Illinois and Missouri.

Out west, migration was slow but steady. There were no big fallouts, but there was a steady stream of flycatchers, warblers, vireos, and orioles in New Mexico, 4 species of warblers, especially Orange-crowned Warblers, in California, and Arizona saw its first Lazuli Bunting of the season.