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Science & NatureWhat is That?What is That ... Migrant?

What is That … Migrant?


Many of our friends are migrating, heading south, fleeing winter.  Snowbirds are like that.  Some leave the region as early as November, not returning until tax time in April.  Others, migrate for only a week or two.  One thing all snowbirds have in common is a deep-seated dislike of the cold, the short days, and the snow.

At Three Mile Bay, where our cottage is located, ruby-throated hummingbirds are among the first of the migrants to depart for warmer climes.  We have observed males leaving by late September; consistently, we see a female or two remaining until early October.  It is always a sad moment when we realize the hummers have left.  It is almost impossible to imagine that most ruby-throated hummingbirds get to their winter havens in Central America by flying across the Gulf of Mexico. Some stay in North America, though, heading only as far south as some of our Florida-loving snowbird friends.  Ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate alone.  It is amazing to learn that even a juvenile hummingbird that has never migrated before knows when to fly, where to fly, how far to fly, and when to stop.  We hope this juvenile male whose photo we took on August 28, 2018 made it.

About the same time the hummingbirds are departing White Lake, we begin to see the great V formations of Canada geese marshalling their families for their long journeys.  It is easier to credit these big birds with their long flights, considering their large size and assumed stamina, but in recent years, many stay late and do not fly as far south as they once did.  They seem to have adapted to human environments finding food on urban lawns, parks, and farmers’ fields.  This year, though, with our area well covered in snow, and frozen solid, we imagine our friends, the Canada geese, are enjoying the warm waters of Chesapeake Bay, again like some of our snowbird friends.

Some of our migrating friends are insects, rather than birds.  Take for example the beautiful monarch butterfly.  Adults make massive migrations flying thousands of miles south to overwinter in central Mexico. Along the way, they stop to feed on flower nectar and to roost together at night. At the Mexico wintering sites, butterflies roost in trees, forming huge aggregations that may have millions of individuals.  We always look forward to their return.

Another insect migrant is the common green darner dragonfly.  Our sources disagree about whether or not this beautiful, large, green dragonfly swarms to migrate south, but we have only ever seen individuals, one as late as early October.  Research is underway to understand the life cycle and migratory habits of the common green darner, but it seems individuals we see in October are about to fly south.  A new generation heads north in the spring.  The first of the following two pictures shows how well camouflaged a common green darner dragonfly can be.  The second shows it more clearly.

Perhaps one of our best known duck species, mallards take up residence on White Lake every summer where they court, mate, and raise their young before migrating along well-established flyways to the southern states or northern Mexico.  Mallards are hardy ducks, though, and sometimes winter in southern Ontario, some remaining as far north as they can find open water throughout the winter.  The great majority, however, migrate to the central and southern States, where lakes and ponds are ice-free throughout the year.

We are all well aware of other migrants including the American robin.  In recent years, we have noticed robins hanging around into the winter, provided supplies of edible berries are available.  There are many other migrants but we will leave talking about them for another day.  It is time to sign off; we are researching migrating ourselves.

The sources we used for some of the facts about migration include: www.ontario.ca; www.bugguide.net; and, www.allaboutbirds.org.




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