For the Birds Radio Program: Canada Warbler and other Fall Birds
It’s still summer for people, but for many birds fall migration is in full swing. Last week I got an e-mail from Duluthian Brandi Mansfield asking how she might go about seeing a Canada Warbler. I told her that she might have a good chance of seeing some as they pass through the area. She sent me another e-mail this week saying this:
The first bird I saw this morning as I walked into Chester Park was a perfect male Canada! He made me work a little to see him well, since he fluttered around a lot, but was generally very considerate in staying nice and low in the vegetation, letting me note his plain gray back. But he made sure I got his spectacles and necklace and white undertail coverts too. Finally! Now I just have to start seeing Canadas in spring and summer, too, and rn be even happier. :) .
Maybe it was just one of those special days, though–after the doldrums of late July, the trees and shrubs in Chester were suddenly full of birds. For a little while it was like magic, birds everywhere, impossible to look at them all. Really heart-lifting. Especially a Scarlet Tanager with the orioles and grosbeaks, and a Northern Waterthrush with the Ovenbirds and Wilson’s and Mourning warblers. I hadn’t seen an Ovenbird in almost a month, and suddenly here are five together! And then the two Pileated Woodpeckers on a single tree! Good stuff.
Although collections of warblers like this happen in spring, too, watching migration in fall is very different from watching in spring. For one thing, few birds are singing to tip us off about where they are. In the morning I hear my neighborhood Mourning Doves and cardinals, and on and off throughout the day am hearing the Pileated Woodpeckers that live around here, but robins and Song and Chipping Sparrows are silent now, as are virtually all of the other songbirds. Chickadees make their normal flocking calls, but no longer are whistling the “Hey sweetie” song that helps solidify pair bonds. Over half of all warblers right now are birds that hatched out this year, wearing tricky immature plumage. In spring it seems like most birds are adult males, since they are the ones singing, so we notice them most, but with them so quiet now, we’re more likely to see females and immatures.
As in spring, when chickadee flocks appear at my feeders, I run outside to check for warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and the occasional tanager or oriole that associate with chickadees. And even when the chickadee flocks have moved on, a few migrants hang out in my fruiting shrubs. I keep a pair of binoculars near my windows and check fairly often during the day. I recently discovered that my yard list is at 199 species of birds, and since this is the 20th year we’ve lived in our house, it would be nice to pull the list up to exactly 200, so I have to pay attention.
Before the sparrows start migrating in September, hardly any of the migrants are seed eaters, so it’s not easy to attract them to feeders. But many of them come to bird baths, sprinklers, and berry bushes. This time of year, many of them stay hidden in foliage, so you need patience and persistence to see them. As I will need patience and persistence if I’m going to find one new species in my yard. You never know when or where a new species will turn up next. The only guarantee is that the more time you spend looking, the more you’ll find. It’s sort of like mining for gold, except the process of searching is more fun in birding, and birding allows many more opportunities for striking riches. Those magical moments like Brandi Mansfield enjoyed at Chester Park will be there for the taking through September. All you need to do is get out there and look.