Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

The Autumn Songbird Migration Commences
October 14, 2017
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 prescient.

     “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. 

     “There 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 matter. 

     “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.

     “It 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 days ahead.”

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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