Birds : Migration crescendo
The end of May is a terrific time not only for looking at birds but for any outdoor activity. The return of so many things absent during the cold winter months and seemingly never-ending spring on Martha's Vineyard makes this an enjoyable, sensory-overload time of year. The sounds, smells, tactile feeling, and sights all converge to energize the body's senses, shifting gears for the upcoming season. For birders, the spring migration is at its peak from before you read this until the end of the month.
The migrant bird species that one encounters are the ones that go farthest north in the summer and winter the furthest south. These hemisphere-trotting birds are remarkable in so many ways that the more one learns about them the more respect and admiration one acquires at their stunning lifestyles. No moss growing under their quick and tiny feet.
Migrant land birds try to stay away from the relatively cold coastline in the spring migration. They do this because the vast ocean full of cold water provides no suitable resting, feeding, or protective features. The ocean itself is not only extremely dangerous to a small insectivorous bird but it is filled with smart winged predators in the form of jaegers and gulls that actively pursue land birds with nowhere to hide out over the ocean. Additionally, because the cold ocean effect on the coast retards the timing of emerging vegetation and accompanying food resources such as insects, the birds have evolved to migrate inland if at all possible.
That said, where we are in time right now - near the end of the migration with birds' internal clocks ticking hard and pushing them to arrive on the breeding grounds at the same time as other members of their respective species - they start to push north at all cost. As they near the finish line, a.k.a., their breeding grounds, in their annual journey to reach another important destination on their mission to perpetuate theselves, they throw caution to the wind in order to be able to breed. The birds do what they have to in order to get where they are going.
That means, as we reach the end of the migration, that birds that waited for favorable conditions and followed traditional routes, stayed away from the hostile coast, and generally played it safe and are now hell-bent on getting to their breeding grounds and take the most direct route. So, birding on the coastline gets very interesting in late May and early June when the greatest variety and number of birds is possible.
The past couple of weeks have been red hot in the birders world. Martha's Vineyard was visited by a slew of winged migrants this past week and birds were seen literally everywhere. From local fields, woodlands, and yards, to passing by overhead, along the beaches, or offshore, birds have been on the move. The spring migration has reached its zenith. It will decrease dramatically near month's end but not before Memorial Day weekend provides excellent birding opportunities.