I’m not a big keeper of lists. I don’t have a bird life list, U.S. list or state list. I do, however, keep a yard list and work list.
My yard list was very robust at my former house in the woods. Now that I live close to downtown in a small suburban town, my yard list is not very impressive. My work list is growing, however. We recently got new offices and I now look out into a patch of woods instead of a parking lot. My daily sprinkling of seeds and nuts in the crevices of the downed trees at the wood’s edge enhances the view and draws in extra birds.
The other day, a hermit thrush hopped along the ground near where I place the seeds. It wasn’t eating the seeds, of course, but it was slowly walking among the leaves and looking curious as hermit thrushes often do.
It was the first hermit thrush I had seen in months. In birder speak, it was my FOY hermit thrush. FOY is “first of year,” and is used during spring migration to indicate seeing a bird for the first time since the previous year. I saw dozens of yellow warblers last spring and summer, but it’s been about eight months since I’ve seen one. When I see one in a few weeks, it will be my FOY yellow warbler, and it will be exciting, hence the need for the designation.
The hermit thrush sighting got me thinking about how spring and fall migrations are mirror images of each other in many ways. There are the obvious ways, such as spring is northward and fall is southward, but there are subtleties are well.
March is like November. April and May are like September and October. June is like August. July, December, January and February are out of the migration conversation in New England with a few exceptions like the early red-winged blackbirds that arrive in February or the late warblers that hang around until December.
Let me explain my rambling. March is the beginning of the spring migration with hardy species such as red-winged blackbirds, eastern phoebes, woodcock and osprey. Similarly, November is the tail end of the fall migration with a few sightings of migratory species yet to be had.
April and May are the busiest months for spring migration, particularly from mid-April to mid-May, just as September and October are the height of the fall migration. The spring migration ends with a trickle in June with some late songbird and shorebird arrivals from the south. August sees the beginning of the fall migration start slowly with a few shorebirds.
Of course, like anything with birdwatching, there are exceptions to these generalities. Some shorebirds start their southward migration in July, or even late June. Some hardy individual birds of migratory species remain with us all winter (or at least attempt to.) Sometimes rarities are blown in from other parts of the country, or the world, for that matter. But the months mentioned above are a good guide as spring and fall migration follow a fairly predictable pattern.
Knowing when and where to see birds helps greatly when it comes to adding species to a life list — for those that keep one anyway.