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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Jewels of Neotropical Migration Starring Hooded Warbler, Veery and Scarlet Tanager

[Port Huron SGA. May/June 2015]

There are thousands and thousands of avian species in South and Central America and the Caribbean. Indeed, the Neotropics is the richest area in the world when it comes to species diversity -- holding a whopping 3,600 taxa. This exceptional abundance is a result of favorable habitat, topography and climatic conditions that allow these species to thrive in their natural environment year round. However, there is but a tiny fraction of the 3,600 that are not content to stay put -- 160 Neotropical migrant species of the 3,600 -- travel North to the US and Canada every year in the Spring and fly back every Fall.

But what possessed this small fraction of the 3,600 to migrate to North America? Why only 160 and not more? What prompted the first species to migrate? Has the number of migrating species changed over time? Migration to our continent is hazardous -- involving long distances, overflight over vast bodies of water and the threat of predators. So, clearly, the rewards must outweigh the risks to make the journey worthwhile.

Indeed the 160-odd species of neotropical migrants that annually augment the other 700 species found in the US are rewarded on arrival with the prospect of fulfilling their primordial urges -- for suitable nesting habitat, favorable climate, lots of food and, equally important, less competition and hence greater availability of mates. 

And, despite our best efforts to derail the wonder of avian migration -- through wind turbines, concrete structures, light pollution, habitat destruction and degradation, zoological pollution, etc. -- the spectacle lives on as it has over millennia. A priceless living feature of our natural landscape no less than the grandeur of the Rockies or the majesty of the Great Lakes.  

Therefore, to live in North America and be oblivious to this miracle of migration, surely, would qualify as nothing less than a tragedy of missed opportunity. Yet for those who are alive to this living "feathered current" as it flows over our forests, migration offers an unparalleled opening to connect with the rhythms of life as seen through the prism of avian natural history.

And, this post aims to offer just that -- to offer a window to the phenomenon of Neotropical migration by bearing photographic witness to iconic species of the Summer forests of North America -- brilliant songbirds such as Hooded Warbler, Veery and Scarlet Tanager.

We start with the Hooded Warbler:

The face of the Hooded Warbler has been described as the "negative" or inverse of the Common Yellowthroat -- yellow surrounded by black vs. black surrounded by yellow.

This striking warbler winters in the Caribbean and Central America and it's Summer range barely stretches into Michigan and Southern Ontario.

Unlike the Hooded Warbler, the Spring migration for the Veery starts much farther South -- from Brazil.

This beautiful cinnamon thrush is named after the "veer" notes of its song which livens up any excursion through the Summer woods.

Another cheerful song is heard from the canopy -- sounding like an American Robin "on steroids", the Scarlet Tanager is a real dazzler:

Finally, at this time of year, warblers abound in appropriate habitat and also observed were:

American Redstart:

 Chestnut-sided Warbler:

A gorgeous Mourning Warbler:

and Blue-winged Warbler:

Of the many gifts we take for granted in the New World, none quite surpasses the beautiful-sounding, feathered jewels of the woods -- our Summer visitors from the Neotropics.

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

It is interesting how wildlife can apparently have imbedded instincts in behavior resulting in the miracle of migration. A recent visit to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was a delight with the diverse "playful" song of Carolina Wren as Floridians await the return of your highlighted species, Hemant. Gorgeous images in your blog as always.