Let’s be real: There’s no substitute for the thrill of being out in the field to witness neotropical migrants and the requisite sensory overload. Just these past few days, I’ve enjoyed the early offerings my local Columbus, Ohio, ravine provides come late March: eastern phoebes, brown creepers, chipping sparrows, to name a few.
Now that I work full-time at Bird Watcher’s Digest—a career move that pays dividends several times over, truly—I actually can consider my birding as professional development! Because I worked 9-to-5 jobs that weren’t bird-centric, until now I’ve been a sort of “fits and starts”-style birder, fitting it in as I was able. Since I began this position in mid-December, I’ve gradually increased how frequently I bird, and it’s picking up now because, well, the birds are picking up now!
It wasn’t always so, of course, back in the pre-BWD era of my life. One tool I discovered about four years ago helped me feel especially connected to the daily avian ebb and flow of migration: Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s BirdCast. As its name suggests, BirdCast posts bird migration forecasts. Much like a traditional weather forecast map, BirdCast’s Migration Forecast map displays a U.S. map with color-coding to indicate bird migration patterns. From none (black) to high (lightest yellow), it forecasts migration movement from the current day to three days out. I have appreciated using this tool as a means to anticipate when migration will be building steam in my area. I will also let you in on a secret: I’m not a morning person by nature, so I’ve used the Migration Forecast map to determine whether or not I really, really need to peel myself out of bed at 7 a.m. on a Saturday.
As of 2018, live migration maps show what is happening in real-time! This map includes a helpful key. One tip to bear in mind: The orange arrows that appear onscreen as the map is played indicate the direction in which birds are flying. Another cool feature is a toggle tool, allowing users to view migration historical radar movements every day dating back to March 20, 2018.
My tendency has been to view this map during spring, as my birding itch typically kicks into full gear during this time. One of my goals as I evolve as a birder is to become more familiar with hawk migration in autumn. It hadn’t dawned on me before but I could use BirdCast to monitor raptor migration patterns during autumn as well. Of course, BirdCast isn’t a substitute for birding itself, but that’s not the intent.
I’m so grateful that Cornell Lab has invested the research and effort into creating so many vital citizen science tools over the years. This little gem might be my favorite.
About the Author
Kelly Ball is the advertising sales director at Bird Watcher's Digest. She has a Walter Mitty complex regarding her personal birding feats. Outside of her work persona, she frequently practices yoga; walks and hikes with her hound dog, Baker; chills with her dude, Kris; and tries to accept her perfectly imperfect self.