Friday, September 14, 2007

Migration, Radar, and Stadium Birding

This past spring, I posted some animated .gifs showing songbird night migration erupting northward on radar. That season has returned, with a southbound trend. Here are some collection of links to help you get acquainted with radar birding (these were originally posted to cayugabirds-l by the very helpful Chris Tessaglia-Hymes, thank you Chris!):

Clemson University Radar Ornithology Lab
CUROL Introduction to Radar Ornithology

Christ T-H's page on recording flight calls over his house.

Migration liftoff from Montezuma NWR on Youtube.

Monday night (Sep 9th) was a particularly strong night for migration (click to animate):

Even better, the big bank lights at the Cornell football stadium were on. Conditions weren't perfect - there was little cloud cover and birds were flying by high up, but the call quickly went out on cayugabirds-l and on our cell phone network of friends - there was a heavy fallout at the stadium. In less than half an hour, a dozen birders had assembled in the bleachers of the stadium while the football team practiced on the field below. Tom Johnson reported our findings on cayugabirds-l later:

Last night's light south winds and high clouds still produced a large
flight of birds over Ithaca... I suppose it is just that time of year
when migrants are moving. The lights were on at Schoellkopf Stadium
for football practice, and so of course the birders swarmed the
bleachers from 9:30 PM until nearly 1 AM. We experienced a flight
mostly composed of Common Yellowthroats, Savannah Sparrows, and
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. This year, perhaps more so than the flight
of 15-16 September 2006 (the last large flight), we saw quite a few
warblers in the trees at the edges of the stadium. Savannah Sparrows
again blanketed the turf of the football field, and an American Pipit
(perhaps the first of fall for the Cayuga Lake Basin) briefly joined
We collectively recorded 42 species (same species count as the big
night last year, though overall numbers were much lower this time),
some counts of which I've estimated below. Some counts might be off,
but it is interesting to note that at the elevation of Cornell on the
hill, we get very few thrushes in September in contrast to
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. However, several hundred feet higher out in
Dryden, Jay McGowan recorded a heavy flight of thrushes before heading
over to the stadium. Veeries have started to taper off for the fall,
and were almost nonexistent at the stadium. The highlights of the
flight were 2 Ruddy Turnstones, one of which flew low through the
lights and afforded visual identification in addition to plaintively
calling for several minutes. A distant Dickcissel was also worthy of
note. It seems clear that Dickcissel can be recorded overhead pretty
much any night with a decent flight in Ithaca - this was the 7th I've
heard from campus in the past two falls.


Location: Cornell--Schoellkopf Field
Observation date: 9/10/07

Green Heron 10
Killdeer 1
Solitary Sandpiper 2
Ruddy Turnstone 2
Common Nighthawk 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1
Northern Flicker 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 2
Eastern Phoebe 1
Gray-cheeked Thrush 15
Swainson's Thrush 60
Veery 2
American Robin 1
Gray Catbird 1
American Pipit 3
Tennessee Warbler 2
Nashville Warbler 2
Northern Parula 2
Yellow Warbler 6
Chestnut-sided Warbler 1
Magnolia Warbler 8
Black-throated Blue Warbler 8
Black-throated Green Warbler 4
Blackburnian Warbler 5
Pine Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 3
Bay-breasted Warbler 5
Blackpoll Warbler 5
American Redstart 5
Northern Waterthrush 4
Ovenbird 1
Common Yellowthroat 400
Wilson's Warbler 4
Canada Warbler 4
Scarlet Tanager 3
Savannah Sparrow 200
Lincoln's Sparrow 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 800
Indigo Bunting 10
Dickcissel 1
Bobolink 30

Empidonax sp. 1
Thrush/ Grosbeak sp. 75
Warbler/ Sparrow sp. 200

Almost all of the warblers were confirmed visually, as they fed in the trees near the stadium lights. It was an incredible experience - birds were flying all around above, just visible in the darkness above the lights. We were lucky enough that the lights remained on until nearly 1am, despite the football team finishing up practice before midnight.

It was the best stadium birding night I've yet experienced, but it pales in comparison to the 'big night' two years ago, when stadium birding as a phenomena was discovered by Cornell students. You can check out my classmate Mike Harvey's page on that infamous night of 17 warbler species in October (I missed it) here, and you can hear Ray Brown's Talkin Birds interview Mike about it here. There is even a publication out of it:

Lebbin, D. J., Harvey, M. G., Lenz, T. C., Andersen, M. J., & Ellis, J. M. 2007. Mixed-species flock of fall migrant birds foraging at night by artificial light. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 119:506-508.

This event is incredible to experience. If you have a stadium or other suitable bank of lights, get out there and start looking for night migrants - if you hit a fallout you will never forget the experience.


  1. I happen to capture a great clip from on the 8th of Sept with both the birds moving and rain coming in from the south! Winds were from the north and skies where clear up north!
    I will probably use this in a future post when i am doing owls but thought you would like to see this clip!

    BTW: Awesome trip to the Stadium! More than perfect way to find a bunch of birds!

  2. Awesome clip! Thanks. I bet it could've been great at the front of that rain...