Spring is when the color starts returning to the formerly bleak winter landscape and part of that color comes on bird wings. Photography in the springtime offers countless opportunities for capturing amazing images, especially if you’re ever fortunate enough to witness a fallout of migrating birds.
The term “fallout” may sound like a scary, unnatural occurrence, but it’s actually a common occurrence that starts in March and can continue through May. When migrating birds encounter weather conditions that make it too difficult to continue flying or become exhausted from flying and are forced to temporarily land, this is called a fallout. Migrating bird fallouts can consist of a few hundred birds resting for a day or so or be even larger and contain thousands of birds that seek rest along their migratory path for several days. For a bird-loving photographer, the opportunity to witness and photograph such an event makes it worth investigating the areas where fallout predictable occurs.
A migrating bird fallout can consist of seabirds or songbirds, and although seeing dozens of different birds all in one area is amazing, songbirds present a more colorful show for photographers. Spring fallouts of migrating songbirds can consist of orioles, tanagers, warblers and numerous other birds, all in their full, vibrant breeding plumage.
Machias Seal Island fallout
One of the most spectacular migrating songbird fallouts in the North Atlantic occurs annually at Machias Seal Island that sits 12 miles from the nearest points of land in Maine and Grand Manan Island, Canada on the Atlantic Flyway migration route. A recent post on The Naturalist Notebook entitled “Migrating Songbird Fallout On Machias Seal Island” revealed the beauty of one particular fallout in May of 2011 as photographed by Lighthouse Keeper Ralph Eldridge. Although the island has no trees, it’s an ideal resting spot for migrating birds due to its location and the slight shelter from the elements offered by the lighthouse and buildings. During the nighttime fallout in May of 2011, numerous varieties of birds rested together on the island following hours and miles of flying from wintering areas including South American and the Caribbean.
Unique bird sanctuary
On that night on May 24, 2011, the lighthouse keeper witnessed a large variety of birds on the building, stairs and ground raining down from the sky amid rain and rough weather. The occurrence was not new to him though as the island has protection under Canadian law with a designation as a bird sanctuary. The lighthouse keeper sees songbirds drop onto the island at all hours during the migration season, and they may stay for a few hours or several days. Mr. Eldridge states that if he left windows open at night, “the house would fill with birds.”
Tips for correct behavior during bird fallout
Although it may be tempting for any photographer to rush out and snap photos of the songbirds as they land and rest, it’s safer for the birds to photograph from a distance. During the grounding of the migrating birds, the birds are exhausted and require rest and should not be disturbed or chased in any way. They have to recover their energy and can’t afford to waste it by avoiding people who want a coveted close up picture. Anyone seeking to photograph a mass fallout should bring their telephoto lens and respect the birds by giving them distance and leaving them alone.
During the May 2011 fallout, the lighthouse keeper estimated that there were tens of thousands of birds from dozens of species dropping down to the island to rest, eat, and sleep. Although his photographs are not top quality due to his respect for the birds need to rest, lighthouse keeper Ralph Eldridge shared images that reveal the amazing and often unseen beauty of spring’s migrating birds.
If you’ve been fortunate to witness and photograph a migrating bird fallout, it’s time to bring out all the vivid details a plumage with digital printing from Baboo Digital.
All photos by Ralph Eldridge