Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Get Ready for the Fall Migration Rush

The cooler mornings this week heralded in the fall passerine migration as far as I’m concerned. Cool late summer and fall fronts with northerly components to the winds bring the warblers, vireos, and tanagers into the southern piedmont.
I took an hour or so last Tuesday to walk around the beaver pond at McAlpine Park with the sole intent of finding a few migrants.  It soon became evident that it was a birdy morning with several flocks of noisy Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice working along the wooded margins. Migrants like to hook up with the chickadee flocks so I always head right for them when I hear them.
I found a large birch tree fairly alive with birds flitting through the canopy. Four or five blue-gray gnatcatchers were conspicuous, flying in and out of the tree. A sharp chip note revealed a nice male Northern parula warbler. A soft chattering call let me know a vireo was in the tree, but which one? Shortly a bright yellow bird with yellow spectacles around the eyes appeared; a yellow - throated vireo, a bird I’m always glad to see. Soon another showed up right next to it.
I took a brief break from scanning treetops to checking the beaver pond itself. Two great egrets and a belted kingfisher were patiently waiting for a careless fish or frog to serve themselves up for lunch. While watching these birds I noticed a red-shouldered hawk noisily flying over and an immature Cooper’s hawk flying silently just over the wetland shrubbery.
The next wooded margin produced a female plumaged hooded warbler and an immature chestnut-sided warbler. The chestnut-sided looks nothing like the adults which sometimes causes confusion in some casual birders.

So there were four species that I would call true migrants that morning. A small number but an encouraging start to the fall songbird migration. In another three or four weeks I would expect that number to triple or even quadruple. And the potential for some more interesting or uncommon species will increase too. It’s time to start looking so grab your binoculars and check out the chickadee flocks or any small bird you see  foraging in your shrubs or small trees.  

Chestnut-sided warbler by John Ennis

Warblers in fall plumage can look nothing like the breeding plumages. this is a fall-plumaged chestnut-sided warbler. Note the bold eye ring, bold wing bars, and bright green crown and back.

Chestnut-sided warbler by Phil Fowler

This is the breeding plumaged male chestnut-sided warbler. Note the bright colors and bold patterns.