Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Migrants Keep September Birding Exciting
September 12, 2009
By Steve Grinley

     September is an exciting month for birding. There are still numbers of shorebirds moving through, though their numbers are fewer each week. A Hudsonian godwit or two are entertaining birders at the Bill Forward Pool on the Parker River Refuge. Appearances by buff-breasted and Baird’s sandpipers, along with an occasional golden plover on Plum Island are keeping things interesting. There are still good numbers of “peeps” to sort through to try to find something different – an unusual vagrant, maybe.
Raptors are on the move. The hawk watches are starting to report Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks on the move and low, but growing numbers of broad-winged hawks. Raptor migration will increase into September and then taper off in October.

     Though the terns are pretty much gone from our area, a Caspian tern was seen on Plum Island on Wednesday. Swallow numbers are way down from where they were a couple of weeks ago, but there are more barn, bank, rough-winged and cliff swallows in with the tree swallows now.

     Passerine, or songbird, migration is beginning to heat up. A few Philadelphia vireos and a number of fall warblers have already been reported in the area. A couple of dickcissels, normally Midwestern birds, have been found in Eastern Massachusetts, including one on Plum Island this past week. As we move through September, more warblers, flycatchers and sparrows will migrate through Essex County.

     Feeders are active with juvenile birds of a variety of species, and others birds are beginning to fuel up for their migration south. Young goldfinches are still begging for food at feeders as parents try to keep their offspring fed. Keeping your feeders full with nyger and sunflower will make their job easier. Keep an eye out for migrant pine siskins or purple finches as well.

     Cooler temperatures, longer nights and diminishing insects are sending more of our resident birds to feeding stations in search of supplemental fat and protein. Late nesting Carolina wrens may still be in search of mealworms or suet. Even a lingering bluebird will appreciate the handout. If you stopped offering suet for the summer, now is the time to put it back out. Resident woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and titmice can all use the added fat during these cooler days. Migrants, such as orioles, brown creepers, and pine warblers enjoy suet as well.

     The most frequently asked question this week was “When should I take down my hummingbird feeder?” Many of our resident hummingbirds have left, though a few may be lingering. We also are seeing migrant hummers stopping to refuel at flowers and feeders on their way through. You can take down your hummingbird feeder anytime now, but a few more weeks may sustain those few birds that are migrating from further north. Certainly by the end of September, most hummers are further south and it is safe to take down feeders. Those that keep a feeder up later in the fall sometimes get rewarded with a vagrant, such as a rufous hummingbird, but that is very rare.

     In the same way, most orioles have left, though we also see a few migrants during September. Oriole feeders can also be taken down anytime now.

     By month’s end, a variety of sparrows, including white-throated and white-crowned, will be scratching underneath feeders. They like white proso millet, as will the juncos which will arrive shortly thereafter. Also in October, fox and tree sparrows may stop by and the latter may stay all winter.

     The other good news is that as October approaches, those flocks of grackles should start moving south. Those pesky blackbirds that dominate your feeders do migrate and they should be gone in a few weeks. There isn’t much to discourage them in the meantime as they seem to devour all types of seed. Feeders that cater to just the small birds (with no, or short, perches, weight-sensitive perches, or small bird entry), may help in the meantime, but those of you that “suffer” from grackle domination will soon be grackle-free for the winter. Then you can learn to “enjoy” the squirrels again!


Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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4 years of service to the birding community! 
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