For the Birds Radio Program: A Walk at Tettagouche State Park
On August 16, I went over to Tettagouche State Park with some birding buddies from Rochester—Scott, Ken, and Sharon. It was a perfect Lake Superior August day—clear, cool in the morning with temperatures climbing just into the 70s, and just a little wind. Not many birds were on the move, and things were overall very quiet—we saw way more than we heard, and even that wasn’t all that much. But we had some lovely, quality birdy experiences on a day when camaraderie was the real focus.
Some warblers are on the move now, and we came across a couple of what looked like migratory flocks which included Red-eyed Vireos, one Philadelphia Vireo, and a Nashville, Black-and-white, and Chestnut-sided Warbler. The birds weren’t making many chip notes, and there probably were more warblers in the flock farther in from the road—we only picked out birds that were moving enough from branch to branch to catch our eyes. We also saw two or three different Ovenbirds, one or two feeding and walking in that deliberate but skulky way they have on the trail ahead of us, and one in low branches of trees beside the trail. I usually see Ovenbirds as patchwork birds, obscured partly by leaves and branches, since they are shy and seem to prefer some vegetation between themselves and us, so it was really fun to see them out in the open.
But the warblers of the day were Black-throated Greens. We came upon two flocks of them, both of which seemed to be family groups. One group of at least 6 birds included an immature but fully-grown female who begged for food from an adult male who quickly fed her—since Black-throated Green Warbler chicks may continue to associate with their parents for as long as a month, she may have fledged as early as mid-July after hatching in early July. The family group was large enough that it was clear these parents hadn’t raised any cowbirds this year—a good thing. Black-throated Green Warblers aren’t known to raise two broods in a season, though they will renest if something destroys their first nest or kills their eggs or chicks early on. It was lovely to see two families large enough to indicate that they’d each had excellent breeding success. The parents are apparently preparing themselves for migration now, while continuing to teach their children how to negotiate life and prepare themselves for migration. It was disconcerting to look at the beautiful old-growth forest in which the babies had spent their entire young lives and imagine the strange world they will soon be facing. Warblers migrate by night, navigating by the stars. During foggy conditions, they are often attracted to the lights of tall buildings and communications towers where millions are killed every year. Assuming young warblers negotiate the skies successfully overnight, they find themselves in morning in a variety of places and habitats, none of which are remotely like the forests of northern Minnesota. Because they sometimes follow the sparkling shorelines and coasts of rivers, lakes or the Atlantic Ocean, come down to earth in a huge urban metropolis, simply because we build most of our cities on these shorelines. After an exhausting flight, these tiny birds need food badly. But if they find themselves in a major city with little green space, they’re in big trouble. Many collide with lower windows and doors of banks and hotels that have plants in their lobbies. Others are hit by cars, killed by hawks and falcons that have become street-wise and learned to capitalize on these visitors from the country. But wherever our migrants from Canada and northern states find themselves, they listen for chickadees. Chickadees know all the best feeding areas in their home areas, and are sociable enough to welcome any strangers into their feeding flocks—I noticed that both Black-throated Green Warbler families were following chickadee families and wondered if that isn’t the way the adults teach their babies this important association.
We left Tettegouche thinking about how rich the world is to have such baby warblers flitting about right now, and hopeful that at least some of these new babies will find their way to safe places in Central America to spend their winter and safely make the return trip. Their parents did it—maybe they will, too.