Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wettest March Ever?

Yes, the state of Connecticut has been inundated with rainfall from a few powerful low-pressure systems this March, but I doubt many forecasters believed March 2010 could end up breaking all-time rainfall records. With more rain yet to come, Bridgeport has set a new record of 9.92 inches as of 6PM today, surpassing the 1953 total of 9.40 inches. Other parts of the state may approach or break their records as well.

So why are we talking about weather? It is an often-overlooked variable in conservation and birding. One month or season of abnormal weather patterns can drastically affect bird populations. The crushing snowfall totals this year in the Mid-Atlantic States are an excellent example. Many species of birds, such as Carolina Wrens, will have noticeable population drops. If one were conducting a Breeding Bird Survey this summer without any knowledge of the previous winter, they would perhaps wonder why some species counts had dropped dramatically, especially if the summer was typical of the local climate. A cold and wet breeding season, with example being the summer of 2009, can lower breeding attempts and success rates.

Early migrant Pine Warbler eating suet to survive. Photo © Scott Kruitbosch.

Weather has an enormous affect on every day birding. Of course, one is going have trouble finding passerines sometimes in driving rain or extremely windy days, but weather's role goes further than that. Cold fronts usher in massive raptor flights south every fall. Nor'easters can bring rare birds from southern regions to our doorstep. Frozen bodies of water can alter the movement of ducks during the winter, driving them further south or to Long Island Sound as ponds and lakes from northern regions are rendered useless blocks of ice.

It remains to be seen what the wettest March ever in most of Connecticut will do. It is likely that, combined with a period of record-setting warmth in March and another coming up for the first week of April, plant and tree growth will be accelerated this year. Early migrants like the Pine Warbler shown above may find plentiful plant material and numerous insects to feed on. If southerly winds can dominate the upcoming period we will see a strong surge of migrants, perhaps on an earlier schedule than average, all possibly commencing breeding activities sooner than usual as well. We will frequently explore and analyze weather and climate in terms of conservation and birding on this blog in hopes that we can all learn something more about the lives of birds.

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