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By Nic.Korte

My thoughts are troubled as I write. I had planned something humorous and tongue-in-cheek about "migrant traps." Doesn't the term call to mind some manner of capturing wildlife such as raiding raccoons or nest-robbing ravens?

What I am referring to are actually the opposite of traps, but oases. Is there anything in nature more amazing than the annual migrations made by so many birds, mammals such as caribou, and sea turtles? I am always reminding everyone that "our" birds--our summer species that is-- such as the brightly colored oriole's and hummingbirds now showing up, and being excitedly reported by birders as FOS (first-of-season)--live most of their lives in other countries. I remind everyone how important it is to do everything possible to preserve the tropical homes of our birds. Examples include donating to international conservation organizations, and drinking only shade-grown coffee. Unfortunately, it seems we are not doing enough. Recent research has shown a nearly 30% decrease in autumn migrants in only 12 years. In the northeast, the decline in migrant biomass is 4% year (Living Bird, Spring 2017). Silent spring is approaching.

Migrant traps, the oases birds need for rest and refueling during their long migrations, are as vital as are the summer and winter homes. That's why, to my way of thinking, forest preserves along the Gulf Coast are so much more important than beach resorts. Millions of birds make the treacherous flight over the Gulf, and need safe and food-filled stopovers before continuing their migration. Here in the west, isolated areas of greenery are equally important.

Imagine you are a weary migrating bird flying high over our area. There is a lot of desert down below. How welcome the rare green spaces must appear. But it takes more than being green. There also has to be food, and for most species that means a dense understory.

Thickets and swamps, those are what birds migratory birds need. Yes, they might land in any park, maybe even your yard after a storm, but it is dense vegetation that provides the safety and food the birds are after. These sorts of areas are "migrant traps." Birders like to frequent them because that's often where there is maximum diversity. A favorite on the Western Slope is Loudy-Simpson, A small city park at Craig. Over the years it has been one of the most reliable West Slope locations for seeing rare migrants such as Northern Waterthrush. Just last week, there was a Northern Parula Warbler, very rare in Colorado. Finally, Least Flycatcher, rare on the West Slope, has nested there. To some, the Loudy-Simpson nature trail in the spring is a bug-infested thicket that is difficult to walk because the bog, filled with snowmelt, has overflowed onto the trail. To a migrating bird, that's a description of paradise.

(Warbling Vireos are one of our most songfull summer birds.  They are just now arriving from Mexico and Central America. Photo by Jackson Trappett)

But, as I said at the outset, my thoughts are troubled. Daily (or more) my in-box fills with new pleas to send a letter, make a call or donate because of another budget cut, another land protection rescinded, or another regulation helpful to wildlife under threat. What should we do? What can we do? I find my inspiration from one of my heroes, and a national leader in our current struggle to save what remains of wild America, the author Terry Tempest Williams. A friend of hers, commenting on William's relentless activism in the face of so many current reversals said, "You are married to sorrow." Williams replied, "No, I just choose not to look away. There is joy in facing the truth of our lives whether it is through beauty or terror. Perhaps it is about presence, choosing to be present with where we find ourselves at any given moment. I simply try to bear witness to what I see through the language of story.”

Williams is right. Don't look away. Look at the beauty of the birds and the grandeur in the process that has resulted in such wonders as a bird that weighs about 0.1oz flying nearly 3000 miles to breed. And, don't look away from the threats either. That's Williams’ message. We can see both. We can be part of the wonder, and part of the movement to preserve it. Both at the same time. We have to do it. (Calliope Hummingbirds are the smallest long-distance migrant in the world. Some pass through Colorado every year. Photo by Jackson Trappett)

This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see send an email to and “like” us on Facebook!]


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