Photo – Magnolia Warbler, The Cornell Lab
For Louisville lovers of aerial displays, there have always been two spring rituals of airborne prowess. One, the jet-fueled extravaganza known as Thunder over Louisville, brings lawn chairs, beer cans, and crowds to Louisville’s waterfront every April. The other, no less spectacular in its display of engineering agility, is far more subtle and typically attended by a few quiet folks with binoculars and hiking shoes.
In this year of cancellations, we all mourn the absence of Thunder, but there is an option: the annual festival of so-called Neotropical migrants, mostly tiny birds (many less than an ounce), who surge out of Central and South America, and the Caribbean, each spring in one of nature’s most dazzling shows.
Ranging from tiny hummingbirds (3 grams) to large hawks and shorebirds (some hawks weigh in around 2-3 pounds), starting in early April and lasting to the end of May, four to five billion birds range northwards from their southern wintering grounds in Latin America and range as far north as the Canadian arctic.
We all missed the first show this year, but there is still a little time remaining for the second, which is truly one of nature’s greatest extravaganzas. For most of us, the idea of a large-scale animal migration brings to mind the American bison or the great movements on the African Plains, but this one is every bit as amazing, even if it comes in much smaller packages.
Just as a US Navy F/A-18 can suddenly fill and shake the glass of a downtown office building, so can a tiny bundle of color suddenly light up the lens of your binoculars in a way no less thrilling moment. In some ways, it is even more awe-inspiring when you realize this has been happening for thousands of years. It’s amazing to recognize the singular natural engineering, the challenge of weather over the gulf, the fuel stops along the Florida coast and the mysterious navigation systems that allow these (mostly) tiny feathery wings to cover landscapes ranging from tropical jungle to open ocean, forests, and at the very end, tundra.
It’s now late May, and it’s winding down, but grab a friend and a pair of binoculars and head to one of the many trails in The Parklands to spot these remarkable migrants. On Boone Bottoms just a few days ago, I spotted a Magnolia Warbler just ten feet in front of me, and for five minutes, without binoculars to assist, watched it cavort on the leaves of a Box Elder tree.
So don’t miss Louisville’s alternative air show: never cancelled, never crowded, lasting for weeks and accompanied by songs and colors and quiet in the woods and fields of our beautiful Kentucky landscapes. While you will probably only hear the sounds of a few birds, remember the billions, and know that taken together, their calls are thunderous!
All trails offer a chance to spot one of these colorful birds, but here are a couple of our favorites:
Boardwalk and Country Lane Walk in the Humana Grand Allee – Beckley Creek Park
Praire Preserve Trail – Pope Lick Park