DETROIT (CBS Detroit) Birdwatching at night: The final frontier?

David La Puma, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Wisconsin — and an expert on bird migration — is visiting Point Pelee National Park at 8 p.m. Saturday to talk with birdwatchers about “radar ornithology”– or watching birds travel at night via Doppler radar.

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La Puma says on ‘birdar,’ flocks show up as blue or green dots on the map, like a moving version of a “five o’clock shadow.”

“Let’s just say it detects lots of things, it detects insects, pollen — and the weather service does a good job of filtering some of that stuff out — but luckily for us in the U.S., the data includes migrating birds, so you can actually see them on the live radar feeds on the Web,” La Puma said.

La Puma says his ‘birdar’ fills a need for birdwatchers who want to follow their flocks at night, when binoculars are no help.

“If you look at a loop of the national composite you can actually see as the sun sets in the east and progresses setting to the west, those migration signals get picked up so you actually see this blooming effect go from the east coast all the way out to the west through the course of the night,” La Puma said.

La Puma’s radar workshop is just one of the many local activities to celebrate the spring migration, which brings in about $15 million a year in tourism to the region.

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La Puma, who hosts a Birdar website at, calls radar and listening for species at night the final frontier of birdwatching. He said birdwatchers can learn to use weather radar images on the Internet to see them — and he’s willing to teach people how to do it.

And what bird watchers see on radar may not be the striking colors and features they’ve come to love — but when migrating birds take flight after sunset and into the radar beam, they appear on radar images as growing concentric circles, he said. It sometimes looks like a big burst of blue.

“It has a very distinct pattern on the radar that’s different than precipitation,” La Puma said. “You can look at the velocity data from the same radar and you can see the direction and speed it’s moving. You can get an idea whether you are under the influence of a giant migration event or whether nothing is migrating over your neck of the woods.”

The treasure hunt the next day is to see what birds landed, La Puma said.

The workshop is part of Point Pelee National Park’s Festival of Birds, which runs until May 20. For more information on daily events or to sign up for weekend hikes with La Puma for $40 per person or hear his radar ornithology presentation at the visitor center for $15 per person get more information  HERE.


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