Day 119: Flying North

Noah tracks the tail end of spring migration.

April 29, 2015, Near Coban, Guatemala — All over the northern hemisphere, millions of birds are migrating right now. In many areas, late April is the peak of songbird migration, and, in places like Texas, the return of warblers, orioles, tanagers, buntings, and other fair-weather friends is quite a spectacle. Birders everywhere are playing that annual “first of the season” game—what date will the first swallow return, or the first cuckoo?

This year, I’m witnessing this massive migration from a different perspective. As the main push of migrants head north from their wintering areas in South and Central America, I am following them at the tail end. Instead of searching for the first arrivals up north, I’m sweeping up the lingerers. It’s like being one of the slowest runners in a marathon instead of watching at the finish line when the leaders cross it.

There are still a few migrants here in Guatemala: This afternoon, in one flock, I saw several Blackburnian Warblers, three Black-throated Green Warblers, a Black-and-white Warbler, an American Redstart, a Golden-winged Warbler, and a Hammond’s Flycatcher. All of them will probably head toward the U.S. within a week or two (as most of their friends already have). It’s fun for me to see these familiar birds in an unfamiliar place, but they aren’t the main targets here—for my big year, the Guatemalan resident species are much more important.

John and I tracked a few of those down today, starting in an arid thorny desert and ending in cloud forest. The bird of the day was a Belted Flycatcher, an attractive, scarce, and range-restricted skulker, which we had in-your-face looks at early this afternoon. We also found a Lesser Roadrunner, basically a miniature version of the Greater Roadrunners in the American southwest, and half a dozen Elegant Trogons. Just another awesome day of birding in Guatemala!

New birds today: 21

Year list: 2341

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