The Thrill Of Spring Migration | Change Is In The Air

Different times of the year over a variety of different things to enjoy in nature. One of the most distinct times of year is the transition from Winter to Fall in the northern hemisphere. Especially the farther north you live. Here in New York there is so much that I look forward to.

Spring in New York is a time of change. Nature begins to reclaim the earth in ways that shriveled away during winter. Plants have withered and gone dormant. Many animals have hibernated or moved away.

As days grow longer and the weather warms Spring begins to reassert itself. The earliest and most exciting sign of this for me is all about wildlife. The most obvious and dramatic change occurs with our feathered friends.

Red-Winged Blackbirds always seem to be some of the first birds to arrive in New York during spring migration.

Birds that are typically found farther north but sometimes flee to New York to escape especially harsh conditions or follow food trends return to their primary habitats north of us. Flocks of birds can be seen flying overhead as they migrate to their breeding habitat. And I begin to notice birds that spend the warmer months here in New York beginning to return.

Some of the most obvious birds to notice are large raptors that are migratory. One of the first birds I often see that heralds the arrival of spring are Turkey Vultures. The Turkey Vultures can be seen gliding along through the sky, riding the thermals. One of my favorite nature related things that has been occurring in our area has been the construction of nesting platforms. The platforms serve as nesting sites for Osprey. It is always a joy to see the Osprey return to our area and take up position at their nesting sites.

Another easy to see indicator that spring is upon us is the arrival of different waterfowl than you’ve been seeing all winter. If you live near a body of water or visit parks that have water features you are probably aware of what types of birds are the regulars. But as spring approaches you may start to see some silhouettes out on the water you don’t recognize.

Horned Grebe floating on the waves at Eldridge Lake during spring migration.

In our area my favorite park to visit with a body of water is Eldridge Park. The typical resident birds here are Mallard ducks and Canada Geese. If I am there and I look out on the lake and see a shape I don’t readily recognize it makes me so happy. It is a reminder that spring is here or nearly so. It is also a reminder that I will have some opportunities to photograph birds that I do not get to see often.

In addition to raptors and waterfowl there are many other types of birds moving into the area for spring. Chief among these birds are songbirds. Some of the smallest and fanciest of these are birds known as Warblers. Warblers are small and move through the environment quickly. Some of these tiny birds don’t even settle in our area but continue moving farther north. I often do not focus on warblers for my photography because of these reasons. They are often here and gone before you know it. Before you can raise your camera to photograph them if you see one. Or before you have a chance to pack your gear for a trip to look for them, the migratory warblers you are interested may have come and gone from our area.

Osprey return to New York in spring and immediately begin fishing at Eldridge Lake.

But there are migratory bird that don’t stay in our area that I do like to try and photograph. These are part of the group of migratory waterfowl that I mentioned above. Why do I like looking for and photographing waterfowl that doesn’t take up residency in Ne work when I don’t like photographing the warblers? It is pretty simple. They are easier to see.

Warblers can show up just about anywhere. Waterfowl on the other hand show up at bodies of water. This makes the task of finding birds to photograph much easier. Also a bird on the water is much easier to see than a bird hiding among bushes and other foliage. Waterfowl don’t have many places to hide unless they are diving ducks and then they can only stay under water for so long.

Double-Crested Cormorant landing in Eldridge Lake in New York in early spring during migration.

In addition to that, over the years I have noticed that migratory waterfowl show up pretty regularly at one specific park. So when I begin to see them arrive at that location, I know it is a good time to start looking for migratory birds in other locations as well. If you want to photograph migratory birds it is helpful to know a little bit about the habits and patterns of birds in your area as well as the cycles of life for birds in general. Then you will have much more fun watching and photographing birds.

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