Our Fall Season Migration Has Begun

Our Fall Season Migration Has Begun

I first heard them on Monday, September 12th, the unmistakable cacophony of Canada geese heading south, their honking calls urging them onward. I watched as the tightly gathered, V-shaped aerial squadron sliced through the sky and out of sight. I am not sure if this is earlier than usual, or right on time, but most certainly the autumn seasonal migration of birds is upon us. Each fall we may not see them depart but we hear their silence and feel their absence. Some birds like Canada geese leave in noisy groups, while others, like the diminutive saw whet owl, quietly depart one at a time, blanketed in the safety of night flight.

Our knowledge of bird migration is vastly improved thanks to countless people who have undertaken careful observations and recorded their sightings. These researchers gather concise data on each species and record their location, date and time.

From the northlands of Canada to the southern tip of South America, the observations and data are shared with ornithologists around the globe. By sharing information, the worldwide movement of birds is coming into clearer and clearer focus. This is true for our local birds too, some of which take relatively short flights to warmer climates in the southeast, while others undertake (twice a year) amazing flights of thousands of miles to the Caribbean, Central and South America.

While visual sightings and identification are still the mostly widely used method of tracking, advances in technology allow researchers to quickly track the real-time movement of specific species as they migrate, thereby adding to important data on their migrating habits.

One of the more recent and interesting bird migration data-gathering efforts comes from the Motus Wildlife Tracking System. According to the Motus website, “Motus is an international collaborative research network that uses coordinated automated radio telemetry to facilitate research and education on the ecology and conservation of migratory animals. Motus is a program of Birds Canada in partnership with collaborating researchers and organizations.” You can visit the website at motus.org.

From the Motus website I learned that researchers put small lightweight radio transmitters on animals such as birds and their signal is detected by receivers scattered around the landscape.

The system uses an array of automated stations operated by many researchers who don’t usually have the time and funding to collaborate and share data. The tagged birds detected at a single local station array can also be detected by other stations as the bird moves from region-to-region, state-to-state and country-to-country. “This massive collaborative effort expands the scale and scope of everyone’s work while maximizing scarce research and conservation dollars.”

Data collected by the Motus central hub comes from 750 receiving stations and includes location, deployment dates, height and bearing of the antenna and the number and date for each species tagged. All this is available to researchers and, in condensed version, to the public.

To see bird species list and data from each receiving station, click on the Explore Data tab and Receiver Locations tab on the Motus website.  You will see each station represented by a single yellow dot on the map.

Here in The Last Green Valley, there is a station at the Connecticut Audubon Society location in Pomfret and at UConn in Storrs. Other nearby locations include Scituate, Rhode Island and Wilbraham, Massachusetts. A quick look at the United States shows stations located along known migratory routes and flyways.

Another fun way we can participate in the gathering of data on bird movements is through eBird, an online source organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “eBird began with a simple idea—that every birdwatcher has unique knowledge and experience. Our goal is to gather this information in the form of checklists of birds, archive it and freely share it to power new data-driven approaches to science, conservation and education.”

eBird users have helped create a database of more than 100 million bird sightings throughout the world. Users create their own accounts with lists of birds, photos and audio recordings of species they have seen. Users can also access real-time maps of bird distribution and receive alerts when species have been seen. With hundreds of thousands of users, hundreds of partner organization and thousands of regional expert researchers, the collaborative work is significant in our global understanding of birds, their numbers, and their annual movements across the planet. For those interested in participating, check out the eBird website at ebird.org and join this unique community of bird enthusiasts taking part in this important and interesting research.

The Last Green Valley is home to many birdwatchers who help researchers by recording the data of their sightings. I too have an eBird account and will look to keep it updated this fall. I’ll also be checking the Motus stations in Pomfret and Storrs to see which birds might be passing through or stopping for a visit.

Our avian neighbors inspire a deep fascination for many of us. Perhaps it’s because they are so visible in our daily lives. With each spring arrival and fall departure, they quietly represent the turn of the seasons, the close of yet another year and the endless cycle of life taking wing in effortless flight.

In the coming months my wistful gaze will scan a snow-filled sky, the migrating birds will be gone, and winter will have fallen upon the land. I am comforted in the fact that the cold months will eventually pass. Come spring I’ll marvel yet again at the first hummingbird at the feeder, I’ll listen for the evening song of the hermit thrush, and my heart will be filled with the hope and wonder of new life.

We live in a beautiful place called The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. I hope you’ll join me and others in caring for, enjoying and passing it on.

Information (and inspiration) for this column is sourced from “How Birds Migrate (second edition),” by Paul Kerlinger, 2009, and “A World on the Wing,” by Scott Weidensaul, 2021. Additional information comes from the Connecticut Audubon Society website and the Motus Tracking System and eBird websites listed above.

Bill Reid is the Chief Ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor. He can be reached at 860-774-3300 or bill@tlgv.org

Exploring The Last Green Valley, Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Norwich Bulletin is granted first serial rights and associated electronic rights to publish the following article.  The Last Green Valley, Inc. retains all other rights to the work.



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