Birdathon 2019: When is Peak Landbird Migration in Northern Virginia and Washington DC?

By Greg Butcher

Black-throated Blue Warbler, Lorraine Minns/Audubon Photography Awards

Black-throated Blue Warbler, Lorraine Minns/Audubon Photography Awards

Audubon Society of Northern Virginia sponsors a Birdathon every spring. We send out a bunch of teams whose goal is to see as many species as possible in a 24-hour period and to raise money for our programs.

Here are the 4 main tricks to seeing the maximum number of species in a 24-hour period:

  • Trick #1 is to get up before dawn and bird all day long (and into the night for owls). 

  • Trick #2 is to visit a wide variety of habitat types. 

  • Trick #3 is to find the best birders with good eyes, good ears, and good knowledge of the local birds (especially their songs). 

  • Trick #4, especially in the Washington DC region, is to go at the peak of migration.

More and more information exists to help determine the peak of migration in any given place. There is a ton of information on eBird, the website maintained by Cornell Lab of Ornithology that records all birds encountered by eBirders every day at every birding spot in the world. The data are summarized in a variety of easy-to-understand formats, but I haven’t yet figured out the easiest way to study peak migration using eBird.

However, in northern Virginia, we have a golden gem of a resource that highlights anything you might want to know about spring migration of landbirds – it’s a website called MPNature. MPNature has a limitation that you might think minimizes its usefulness – it is focused on the birds (and plants) of one of the smallest and most suburban parks in Northern Virginia – Monticello Park. 

But Monticello Park has three advantages that make it a wonderful barometer of the state of landbird migration in Northern Virginia (and Washington DC): 

  1. It is an amazing magnet for birds, with 124 species

  2. Its spring birds have been meticulously documented since 2005 by Tom Albright and a host of other birders; 

  3. And, of course, it has an amazing website, beautifully and purposefully created by Bill Young, Ashley Bradford, and their friends.

I should probably have written an article about the beauty of the website. Ten different photographers have contributed gorgeous stills and videos of the birds, the plants, and views from within the park. But that’s a different article!

Under the “Daily Checklist” tab is a list for each day of April and May of the migratory birds that have been seen on that date between 2005 and 2018 divided into 3 groups: species that averaged more than 2 individuals on that date, species that averaged between 1 and 2 individuals, and species that have been seen in the park on that date, but not every year.