Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Out with the Old, In with the New

The strong cold front that moved in last weekend was of the stuff birders live for. Since August serious birders have been waiting for the first strong front of the season. Oh, there have been some mini cool downs that caused some birds to move but the season had been notable for the absence of cold fronts with northwest winds. Such fronts sweep out migrants present prior to the passage and sweep in new ones. The birding landscape can change literally overnight. Birders well know this phenomenon and take advantage.
Last Saturday I was on the shores of Lake Norman off Exit 30 at Davidson. At daybreak I saw tightly packed flocks of both blue-winged and green-winged teal, some numbering over sixty individuals, flying high and low over the lake. For about an hour a flock of teal was never out of my sight. These hundreds ducks were pouring into and through the piedmont as a result of the stiff northwest winds. I also saw my first pied-billed grebe of the season and four common terns blowing around in the winds, also a season first.
The next day even more changes were evident. Winter birds appeared in the feeding bands of migrants. Yellow-rumped warblers, yellow bellied sapsuckers, and ruby-crowned kinglets replaced species that had departed. The front ushered in the first wave of sparrow migrants too. At Veteran’s Park I found the season’s first sizable chipping sparrow flock, a group of about twenty-five birds.
For weeks Eastern wood-pewees had been a numerous and conspicuous migrant. Eastern phoebes had been present in small numbers. After the front passed the numbers of these two species switched. Pewees became scarce while the phoebes became the dominant flycatcher seen. This fall I have seen more white-eyed vireos than any other year that I can recall, yet they were totally gone by Sunday. Small migrating flocks of blue jays could be seen winging slowly and steadily overhead, while migrating chimney swift numbers increased dramatically too.

There are still a few ruby-throated hummingbirds hanging around but their numbers took a nosedive too. I expect the numbers to have further declined by this weekend. Next, the sparrows and winter hummingbirds will arrive. More on that development in a few weeks.
Blue-winged Teal by Jeff Lewis