Veery 2000x BINNS 1D2A6036 copy

IN THE BACKYARD: Philadelphia mid-May

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May 21, 2020 | by Adrian Binns

At this time of year I am usually exploring the southern shores of Lake Erie in NW Ohio for the Biggest Week in America Birding. Instead, I am now at home, eagerly anticipating migrants that might show up in my backyard in mid-May. And they did. Spring migration is in full swing!

Chestnut-sided Warbler

I enjoyed two big days, a week apart, with many migrants. Both occasions followed southerly winds, which aid bird flight, and then northwest winds that kept birds grounded. On May 9, I joined many Wildside guides participating in the Global Big Day, by doing a Big Sit in the yard! In spite of very strong winds, I recorded a respectable 38 species, including my first-of-season sighting of Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and the last of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. There were 9 warblers – Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Green, Yellow, American Redstart, Ovenbird along with two or three Chestnut-sided,  Black-and-white and Yellow-rumped.

American Redstart, male

At the mid-month mark, temperatures soared into the upper 70’s and a good migration night panned out as predicted. I awoke on the 16th to Bay-breasted Warblers, American Redstarts, Ovenbirds and a Common Yellowthroat singing up a storm. Black-throated Green and Magnolia were also about. Three thrush species at once in the yard was brilliant. Veery, Gray-cheeked and Swainson’s Thrush foraged amongst sun-dappled leaf litter in the back corner. I did wonder where are the Wood Thrushes?

Scarlet Tanager, female

Other migrants included Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Least Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Blue-headed Vireo and a pair of Scarlet Tanagers. The day ended with Common Nighthawks moving north just after sunset. Over the course of May 8-19, an Ovenbird was here for all that timeframe, at least one American Redstart for the last 5 days, and a Gray-cheeked Thrush for 3 days.


I could see the numbers of White-throated Sparrows decreasing as each day passed, and by May 15, the last of my wintering birds had departed for their breeding grounds in northern Pennsylvania or beyond. For more than a month I was joyfully tracking a pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers excavate a nesthole, incubate eggs, and begin to raise young, when sadly, aggressive Starlings took over the cavity. As consolation, I enjoy Downy Woodpeckers and White-breasted Nuthatches regularly snatching peanut bits from the feeders outside my kitchen window.

update May 8-19, 2020

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