Southward migration


What a whirlwind the end of the season has been! The birds are all packing in those fat reserves with the fall harvest of berries and seeds and the insects that buzz over fallen booty from the fruiting trees. From Seal Island I found myself ferried away, watching this solomnpuff.jpgdramatic island float off and become part of the horizon, a far off dreamland that was once all my own, I’m struck by how lucky I was to live there these past four months. And now, this natural playground that now truly returns to nature as the first brisk winds suggest the creeping tendrils of winter taking over land and water. Imagine those puffins, now somewhere out to sea, fishing and floating and passing along with the days that grow shorter with impending darkness of long, cold nights. That’s a lot for a little creature, so new to this world, to endure! More than I ever could.

In 2009, Project Puffin researchers attached geolocator tags that, when retrieved by recapturing the same puffin two years later, tell us where they go during the winter,


Recaptured GeoPuff

revealing information never before known about these sea-roving birds. It so happened that a tagged bird travelled north along the continental shelf alongside Nova Scotia spent January in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. He then travelled nearly 3,000 miles southwest to pass the rest of the winter over the shelf off the coast of the Mid-Atlantic United States. Two years passed before he was recaptured, having finished the second of two round-trip migrations amounting to more than 8,000 miles of travel. This information was stored in and obtained from the geotag worn by this bird, retrieved in 2011 when the bird was finally recaptured on Seal Island.


What’s especially cool about this information is how it can contribute to not only our knowledge of important areas throughout the lifespan of one bird, but that these areas


A life spent on land and sea, reliant on the protection of both.

probably also harbor important resources for many other species which rely on the rich-though-endangered marine resources that we so desperately need to conserve for the benefit of the greater ecosystem, biodiversity and health of our planet. With these new data, obtained by the efforts of Project Puffin research, they can have impact on bigger decisions such as that made, as was this summer, to protect important areas for not just seabirds, but all marine life. The biodiverse zone of this newly designate Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is the first marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean and it now protects 4,913 square miles of marine habitat, in an area about 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

So, with a bit of much-needed good news for the puffins and other seabirds I had the privilege of sharing the nesting season with, south I go! My mother and I finished off my season of living in a tent by living in a tent for several more days before leaving the beauty of coastal Maine. We found ourselves on a lovely ocean-front campsite at Searsport Shores campground. I had fun with an ebird checklist  (I’m new to the phenomenon of taking a list and loading it to this rapidly growing online database of bird sightings. More on that later!..). But I saw some interesting hints of migration as we followed the rocky shoreline: a true flock of flycatchers (not really something you usually see as these are more solitary birds) that were hawking flies that swarmed over asealeaf sun-warmed patch of fallen apples, rotting under their parent tree. What a meal for these birds, desperate for any and all fuel they can store along their exhaustive journey southward. A shower of tree sparrows fell from the pine boughs and covered a grassy expanse next to a dirt road. They’d found something to fuel up on as well. The birds are on the move. The nesting season is over and they’re moving south. I’m just the bystander, but I get to tag along and document our entry into a new turn of the seasons. I’m still getting over being back in communion with trees and leaves, which I’ve missed so much on my grassy, rock island.

Now back at my main migration stopover, I’m back in the WDC. This city is so inviting this time of year. The summer-aged leaves are glowing extra yellow in the late afternoon sunlight, the temperature is bearable as the humidity has finally relented and a light jacket suffices for this agreeable yet fleeting climate. The ephemerality of the season makes you appreciate it more when it’s here, if only even for a brief spell. So, now that I’ve left my bird island paradise, it’s back to urban birds for awhile, many of which I’ve not seen for months. But even my grubby city birds are captivating. I’m easily entertained..



Stay tuned as I continue to follow the snowbird path southward!


About Stacey M. Hollis

Tropical guide and naturalist at Tranquilo Bay Eco-Adventure Lodge on Isla Bastimentos set within Panama's Caribbean Bocas del Toro archipelago. My aim is to share my passion for birds and the awesome biodiversity of the tropics while spreading the word about the importance of environmental conservation.
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