It’s in your nature: Fall migration has begun
A monarch butterfly grabs some calories from a butterfly weed it will need for its amazing migration to the mountains of Central Mexico. Look for them now drifting southward throughout our region. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Joining the millions of other warblers and flycatchers, this blackburnian warbler (a resident of this area) is now migrating to Central and South America.
Photographed on Aug. 2, these young barn swallows still in their nest will probably be a few thousand miles away, winging their way to South America as you read this column.
They’re here and then they’re not. Robins have already left your backyards to fly to forested areas to continue feeding. Then in late September/October, they will migrate farther still to the Carolinas or other southern states to await their return in early March.
Joining the warblers, the scarlet tanager, has begun its migration south. Look for them feeding in the tree tops, but their black wings may be the only feathers remaining from their breeding plumage. “Greenish” feathers are replacing the male’s brilliant reds.
As a youngster, this “budding nature nut” understood migration by the hundreds of flocks of migrating Canada geese in fall and the expected, but unexplained, arrival of robins in our yard each spring. Since then, this intrigue led me to become a biology major, an official hawk watcher at Bake Oven Knob, and an avid birder trying to gain more and more information on how migration works.
Almost to the day, you can expect certain bird species to arrive in your backyard each spring or depart almost the same dates each fall. This year’s fall migration has already begun.
By the time you read this week’s column: A. the robins have already been absent from your yards for about three weeks; B. the last of the barn swallows have taken off on their 5,000-mile return trip; C. hawk watchers along the Blue Mountain have already been recording the first of the migrating bald eagles, kestrels and broad-winged hawks; and D. you should be grabbing your binoculars and field guides to catch the myriad warblers, vireos and flycatchers now moving south through the Times News woodlands.
I’ve already found time to bird a few times in the past two weeks and added two species that eluded me on their spring trek northward. Fall migrants greatly outnumber the spring migrants because their ranks are bolstered by the young birds fledged from this year’s nests. In simple terms, you can see many more birds in the fall.
There are two disadvantages to identifying the fall migrants even with those greater numbers. Many warbler species have lost their spring breeding plumage or the young have yet to attain their adult plumage. This makes many of the warblers look very much alike. Since many are active feeders, the fleeting glances don’t help you make an accurate identification any easier. The other disadvantage is fall migrants seldom sing.
Think back to a May or June morning when your backyard or nearby woodlot was almost a cacophony of bird songs. That singing gradually wanes as summer drags on, the nesting is completed and they no longer need to attract a mate or advertise what is THEIR territory. A late August morning is actually eerily quiet.
I’m not trying to discourage your late summer birding but preparing you for a more challenging outing. A good bird field guide will most likely contain plates of fall warbler plumage and is helpful. One species with a drastic appearance change is the brilliant male scarlet tanager. Strikingly scarlet in spring, the fall males may only retain a few red feathers or be a washed green color save for its black wings. What a transition!
Get out there to enjoy one of natures mysteries as “tons” of birds feed through the trees, migrate above the ridge tops, or stop by our lake shores for a snack. The fall migrations have already started.
Not to be overlooked, it appears the monarch butterfly numbers have rebounded this year and I hope you see large numbers of these small and determined fragile migrants.
Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: Bird migrants use ________ to aid in their migration.
A. landmarks, B. star patterns, C. the earth’s magnetic field, D. all of these, E. none of these.
Last Week’s Trivia Answer: A queen bee larva is fed a special food called royal jelly.
Contact Barry Reed at email@example.com.