Monday, October 16, 2017

Coming and Going: Transitions

By Beth Sullivan
A couple of weeks ago, my hummingbirds left. Right on time- on the first or second of October. There are still flowers full of nectar, we haven’t had a frost yet, but the time and light was right and their migration began. For a few days the Downy Woodpeckers and curious Chickadees used the nectar feeder. Bird watchers in my area have noted this behavior over the last years and we wonder if it is a local learned behavior. These birds will stick around, but the hummingbird feeder has been brought in and cleaned for the winter.
I am always amazed at migrations. As a kid ( okay...and as an adult) I watched the timeless journeys of the large mammals in Africa, always in awe of the volume, mass and energy of the large herds. But I am even more in awe of the smaller creatures and their abilities.
As we lose our nectar-sippers, the insect-eaters are not far behind. While it is hard for us as lay people to know the difference between one Common Yellow Throat and another, science has been able to inform us that those that were born in our area are moving on, heading south, and those we may encounter now as we walk a wetland thicket are likely from more northern origins.
Goldfinches will be happy with wild seeds and birdfeeder offerings. Photo by Rick Newton.

Hummingbirds have fueled up and left the area.

Shorebirds, like this Yellowlegs, have an extended migration period.

More on the coast

Because we live on the coast, we have greater numbers of migrants. It is also known that most birds, especially the young of the year, migrate along the shore line. It might be a visual cue, maybe there is something atmospheric as well. But as they follow this Atlantic shore line, flying most frequently at night, they “drop out” each morning for their R&R in the coastal thickets and shrub lands. Hiking at places like Barn Island, Bluff Point, and Knox Preserve, or visiting off shore islands like Fishers Island or Block Island is a bird watcher’s heaven. Be on the look out for a great variety of fall warblers, thrushes, vireos, and others making their way south through this month.
Shore birds have mostly finished passing through here. The adult plovers, sandpipers, and other shore bird species leave their nesting areas in the far north well before their own young can fly. They also migrate along the shore line so local beaches are often alive with the small birds, picking through seaweed and resting up. Their young will follow up to a month later, usually following the same route, and often landing on the same beaches in South America as their parents. Bird banding studies have proven this, and now radio telemetry has made it even more accurate.

Flocks are forming

The Swallows are still massing before they roost every night, but that spectacle is nearly over. Our Martins left first, making their own flocks. In more southern areas, their roost flocks are so large that they show up on radar. The same occurs with the mixed flocks of Tree, Barn and Rough Winged Swallows that collect in marshes, most notably at the mouth of the CT River. Each evening they gather and swirl, and then settle to rest and ready themselves for their push southward.
From this, it sounds like we will be birdless shortly. Don’t despair. The sparrow numbers are already increasing in the grass lands. At Dodge Paddock, Knox Preserve, and Fennerswood, the weedy fields are full of chirp notes as they search for seeds. More northern finches will arrive and populate the thickets. It is time to bring out the seed and suet feeders. It is also time to think about Project Feeder Watch here, which gives us all an excuse to get out and look for the birds of Autumn.
The process of bird banding gives us greater insight into migrations. Photo by Rick Newton.

Nightly, thousands of swallow mass in preparation for their migration. 

Soon the Hooded Mergansers will arrive in local coves.

Sparrows are in abundance in local grassy fields.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan unless otherwise indicated.

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