Bird migration is a creative evolutionary solution to a problem posed by a tilted planet. The earth’s axis is angled 23.5 degrees relative to its orbit. As a result, the hemispheres take turns basking in the sun — what we experience as seasons. Birds, and some other winged creatures, essentially migrate in order to follow the sun in a way that earthbound creatures cannot.
Migration takes place primarily along four flyways running north to south from the boreal forests of Canada to the tropical rainforests of South America. Each bird species has a unique migration route and timing. Here along the Pacific flyway this month, many summer nesters are well on their way south, while overwintering birds are moving in.
A tsunami comprising billions of birds surges across the continents twice a year, yet most people miss the phenomenon, and many of us will only experience it on a small scale, spotting only single birds and small flocks through our binoculars. The big picture of migration is not typically accessible from the ground, even with the most powerful optics.
Many migrating birds fly at night because it is cooler, the air is calmer, and predators, such as hawks, migrate during the day. Massive flocks of birds ascend from the earth about a half an hour after sunset — a phenomenon called an exodus or bird burst.
Moon-watching is a traditional way to get a feel for the multitudes of nocturnally migrating birds. During spring or fall migration, pick a clear night with a full or nearly full moon. This is not easy on Vashon, although September’s brilliant full moon was ideal. Point your telescope or a good pair of binoculars towards the moon around 8 or 9 p.m. when the number of birds in the night sky peaks. Count the birds passing in front of the moon for the next 10 minutes, then multiply that number by six to get an estimate of the number of birds flying through the small cone of sky between you and the moon in an hour. To get an idea of how many birds passed through the whole slice of sky over your head, multiply your birds per hour by 347.45. Even if you see only five birds in a 10-minute period, that’s more than 10,000 birds an hour in the air above you.
Radar can also capture bird bursts — in what looks on screen like a slow-motion explosion. In World War II, bewildered radar operators dubbed this phenomenon angels. Recently, scientists working with The Cornell Lab of Ornithology have compiled Doppler radar data from dozens of sites to create amazing real-time migration maps and forecasts for the entire country. Their Bird Cast page (birdcast.info) shows real-time bird migration traffic as detected by the U.S. weather surveillance radar network. As sunset descends across the country, the animated map lights up with bird bursts and illustrates migration intensity and direction. Their three-day forecast maps plot 23 years of radar observations alongside the most recent weather forecasts to predict upcoming migration activity.
This new application of technology makes experiencing the wave of migration almost as awesome as encountering an individual songbird passing through Vashon on its astonishing journey. Together, birds make migration a phenomenon no one should miss.
Animal rescue information
Migration is a particularly dangerous time for birds. To help them out, provide water, keep cats indoors and provide native plant habitat.
Here’s a resource list to save in case you find injured or dead animals anytime during the year:
For marine mammals (injured, stranded, dead): Ann Stateler: local NOAA Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator: 206-463-9041.
Call Ann Stateler first. If you can’t reach her, call Cascadia Research: 360-791-9555.
For large carnivores (bear, cougar etc): call the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife at 425-775-1311. Kim Chandler is the island’s wildlife enforcement officer.
For small dead animals (birds, minks, bats, etc.) in good condition, contact Gary Shugart, head curator of Slater Natural History Museum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253-879-3356.
For injured wildlife: PAWS at 425-787-2500
Westsound Wildlife Rehabilitation at 206-855-9057
Sarvey Wildlife Care Center at 360-435-4817
For pets, contact VIPP at 206-389-1085 or Amy Carey at 206-755-3981
Poaching: in progress, call 911, WDFW reporting hotline: 1-877-933-9847
Further questions or assistance, contact Vashon Nature Center at 206-755-5798, email@example.com.
Field Notes Calendar – October
Join Vashon Nature Center’s BeachNET to survey for forage fish on island beaches.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to sign up.
9:30 a.m.: Meet at Dockton Park and the Burton Coffee Stand to carpool to monitoring sites.
Sunday, Oct. 7
Conversation on Clean Energy
Hear from the Land Trust’s Executive Director, Tom Dean, and members of the Vashon Climate Action Group on why the Land Trust officially endorsed Initiative 1631, Washington’s Carbon Emissions Fee Measure.
3:30 p.m. at the Land Trust Building Tuesdays, Oct. 9, 16, 23 and 30
Land Trust Volunteer Project
Help restore critical habitat along Judd Creek, Vashon’s largest salmon-bearing creek. Volunteers begin the month with invasive plant removal and end with planting native trees and shrubs. To register and receive directions, contact Erika at email@example.com.
9 a.m. to noon at Judd Creek Preserve
Saturday, Oct. 13
Vashon Audubon Field Trip
Birding on the island. Drop in, no charge and no experience necessary. Bring binoculars and scopes if you have them and wear walking shoes or boots. Kids must be accompanied by a parent or other adult. Carpools encouraged and can be arranged at Ober Park. See vashonaudubon.org for more information.
9 a.m. to 11 a.m. (please note seasonal time change). Meet at Ober Park Park & Ride lot.
Audubon Council of Washington Annual Meeting
Join us to explore the future of birds in our national parks, get the scoop on important bills that will be in the 2019 legislature, and network with Audubon leaders from across the state.
Register at wa.audubon.org/events/audubon-council-washington-1.
9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Brightwater Center in Woodinville, Washington.
Monday, Oct. 22
Maury Island Aquatic Reserve Community Stewardship Meeting
This committee is made up of local volunteers who provide input to the managers of the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve. All members of the community are invited to attend.
10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the large meeting room at the Vashon Library.
Thursday, Oct. 25
Land Trust Book Club
Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife With Native Plants, by Douglas W. Tallamy. The group will discuss how to garden for sustainability and biodiversity.
6:30 p.m. at Kneeshaw House, 11132 SW 204th Street.
Tuesday, Oct. 30
All Hands Aquatic Reserve Meeting
Join the Vashon Nature Center at the All Hands Aquatic Reserve Meeting. Members from all the reserves will be discussing and collaborating on various projects. Hilary Franz, Washington DNR’s Commissioner of Public Lands, will be the keynote speaker.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Discovery Park Environmental Learning Center in Seattle
Oct. 30, 31, Nov. 1, 2, 6 to 10.
Volunteer Trail Building
Vashon Land Trust and the Washington Trails Association are building a trail between the Maury Island Marine Park and Gold Beach, temporarily called the Ridge Trail, scheduled to be completed by
2019 or 2020. Island volunteers are welcome; contact Tom Dean or Erika Carleton at the Vashon Land Trust if you are interested.
Friday, Nov. 2
Vashon Audubon 2019 Calendar Launch Party
The first chance to view and purchase the 2019 calendar, hot off the press, and enjoy a slideshow of all the photographs by Vashon photographers.
6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Land Trust Building