Re: Migrant odds and ends and Moonwatching

Eric Culbertson

In regards to moonwatching: I’ve found that attaching a smartphone to your spotting scope using a digiscoping adapter and watching the moon face on video mode gives you a clear picture without the need for sunglasses.

Eric Culbertson 

On May 6, 2020, at 7:13 AM, Adam Searcy <serpophaga@...> wrote:

Hello SBCoBirding,

Some brief migrant odds and ends (some late) and then a note on nocturnal migration (below):

In oak woodlands in the low foothills the past few days (where I've had the good fortune to be sent for occasional surveys for work) I've detected a good number of migrant SWAINSON'S THRUSHES moving through (foraging and occasionally calling, not singing in appropriate breeding habitat) and still a decent trickle of warblers headed north and mostly using oaks, including yesterday (5 May) in Romero Canyon: HERMIT, TOWNSEND'S, YELLOW (in addition to territorial singing birds that I assume to be local breeders), WILSON'S, as well as a CASSIN'S VIREO. Notable (to me) has been the lack of migrant flycatchers the past week. Five male PHAINOPEPLA were seen flying high overhead and headed west, one over Romero, four over eastern Montecito,

Also seen 5 May high over Romero was a light adult SWAINSON'S HAWK, which seem to be having a decent spring locally. For those who live in the higher parts of Santa Barbara or Montecito, some of the known fall hawk watching sites in May and early June could be productive for interesting raptors. 

Also on 5th May, a RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH was incessantly "Yanking" from an Aleppo Pine in Mission Canyon on Cheltenham.

 Kimball Garrett posted (copied below) about the state of the moon tonight being prime for observing some nocturnal migrants. I attempted a moonwatch last Friday (1 May) with about a 65% moon and was able to pick up 9 migrants in 20 minutes just using binoculars. I wasn't able to hear flight calls (State Street is still a bit loud) but those of you in quieter areas will probably be able to. Many (many) birds fly overhead while we're all asleep or otherwise occupied: I find just seeing a few dark bird-shapes fly over the moon to be an interesting peak into this otherwise invisible part of local bird migration and recommend giving it a try.

Here's Kimball's moon-watching how-to note from the LA Co list:


The next three nights, but especially tomorrow (Wednesday) night, should be ideal for moon-watching for nocturnal migrants.  The full moon (a "supermoon" this month) is early Thursday morning, so Wednesday evening should be perfect. It's better to watch a bit before the full moon than after, since the moon will be higher in the sky around 9:00 pm (when nocturnal migrants should be aloft).  Peak spring migration in our area is roughly from 20 April to 10 May, so a full moon the last week of April or first week of May is fortuitous.

Just put your spotting scope on the moon (I usually zoom up to about 40X) and watch for birds flying across the face of the moon. They're surprisingly easy to detect.  You might be able to distinguish "biggish passerines" (e.g, thrushes, grosbeaks, tanagers) from "smallish passerines" (e.g., warblers, buntings, vireos), but it's hopeless to try to identify anything further.  Just counting and getting a sense of the magnitude of movement is fascinating enough.

I suggest that between 9:00 to 10:00 on Wednesday evening (6 May) you give it a try for one or two 10 or 15 minute periods.  Wear sunglasses or use some kind of filter to darken the bright moon or you'll run the risk of at least temporary damage to your eyes. Keep a tally, and make a note of direction of travel.  This is best done by using the moon as a clock face and noting direction by indicating (for example) "6:00 to 12:00" or "4:00 to 9:00."  Using a compass or known orientation, you can later translate that into direction of travel (e.g. "to NW," which seems to be the dominant direction of travel at many local sites). 

If you want, you can report results on this list serve (# of birds per unit time, main direction of travel, your locality, and the time of evening you watched). 

Though you won't be able to identify the birds crossing the face of the moon, you might be able to get a sense of what is moving by listening for nocturnal flight calls.  Some calls (like the "queee?" of Swainson's Thrush) are quite distinctive.  Better yet, make recordings if you can.  There isn't a one to one correspondence between what you hear and what you see flying across the moon (probably not even close), but listening for calls might give you a rough idea of some of the dominant species in the sky.


Kimball L. Garrett
Ornithology Collections Manager
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90007 USA
Adam J. Searcy
Santa Barbara, CA

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