WORDS ON BIRDS
The Autumn Songbird Migration Commences
By Steve Grinley
The Fall shorebird migration that began back in July has finally
slowed to a crawl. The passerines, or songbirds, generally move
through our area in September and October. Most of the hummingbirds
and orioles have left our backyard feeders, but many of the warblers
and sparrows are just making their way through our area now.
October and November are particularly
interesting months when migrant “strays” can make unexpected
appearances. Doug Chickering of Groveland takes note of the
migrating birds on Plum island this past week:
“In the morning, as Lois and I were preparing to go out I saw some
movement in the Dogwood tree at the end of the driveway. Small,
active birds leaping and darting about in the sparse foliage. Two
Myrtle [Yellow-rumped] Warblers. It was an encouraging sign for the
day ahead. I had been wondering when it would come and I even
drifted to wondering if it would come at all.
“Where were the sparrows and warblers of fall? There had been some
movement. The shorebirds were, by and large, good but otherwise the
island had been really quiet all through September and into October.
It’s true that it is hard to complain about a fall migration that
produced a Connecticut warbler but by and large things hadn’t
progressed as expected. The omen in Lois’ yard proved to be
“Yesterday I was on Plum
Island hoping that the passerine migration had finally started; it
was windy and essentially bird less. Today Lois and I arrived to a
still cloudy day and right at the first middens by parking lot one
we could tell things were different. There was chipping and
squeaking a few small birds flying about. There was still a
scattering of Great Egrets in the marshes, a growing number of Black
Ducks in the Pans and high skeins of Cormorants in various flight
formations heading south. There also were passerines. In twenty-four
hours things had changed.
was a familiar appearance of migrations past to the small clusters
of birds here and there in the trees and more numerous groups of
birds foraging at the side of the road. An essentially autumn cast
to it all. To be sure most of the birds in the trees were Myrtle
Warblers and the majority of the sparrows leaping into the bushes
from the roadside were Song Sparrows. But mingling in with them were
the prizes, the treasures of autumn birding.
“I had a fleeting but diagnostic look at an Orange-crowned Warbler
that flew across the road at the northern end of the S Curves; waist
high. A yellowish blur that conveniently landed in plain sight long
enough to display the plain olive upper parts, the faint streaking
of the dull yellow upper breast and the yellow under tail coverts
that ended in smudgy gray at the belly. It was exhilarating.
“Also among the foraging in the grasses at the edge of the road
mixed in with the Songsters were a Field Sparrow, three or four
White-throated Sparrows, a single White-crowned Sparrow, and a
nicely marked Lark Sparrow. All in the S Curves. There were several
Savannah Sparrows and a possible Lapland Longspur at the Wardens.
Like so many sightings this time of year I just didn’t get a look
good enough to qualify it for my day list - or my year list for that
“I was also delighted by
first looks of the year of a male Black-throated Blue Warbler and
the first Junco of the year. Black-throated Blue is a rather common
bird but in the spring I had only one look at a rather drab female.
It had been that kind of year.
wasn’t of the level of a fall-out or even one of the better fall
birding experiences (the best single birding day of my life came in
October). Most of the birds were fairly common but it was spiced up
with enough genuine treasures as to infuse that sense of excitement
in the search. The weather this year has been peculiar and
uncertain, but I can hope that today is just the first of many good
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