Tag Archives: Fall migration

Hummingbird numbers spike as summer season advances toward autumn

 

From the shade of my front porch, I watched about a half dozen ruby-throated hummingbirds cavort among the blooms of a large mimosa tree on a recent evening. The tree apparently holds an extraordinary attraction for the hummingbirds, as well as the pipevine swallowtail butterflies and other pollinating insects. I enjoyed watching the greenish hummingbirds zip among the profusion of pink mimosa blossoms, which have always reminded me of the thin fiber-optic filaments popular on some artificial Christmas trees and other decorations during the holidays. To draw so many different insects, as well as hummingbirds, the mimosa blooms must provide a rich source of nectar.

While I have almost wilted from the recent extended heat wave, the ruby-throated hummingbirds at my home appear to have downright thrived during these sunny, hot days of mid-summer. Once again, these tiny birds must have enjoyed a successful nesting season, based on the numbers of young hummers visiting both my feeders and flowers. The uptick in the presence of hummingbirds took place without much fanfare, but after a couple of months of “hummer doldrums,” it was impossible for any observer to miss the way these tiny birds have become much more prevalent in recent weeks.

Coinciding with this resurgence of the hummingbirds at my home, I received a post on Facebook from Philip Laws, a resident of Limestone Cove. Apparently, Philip, too, has noticed that hummingbird numbers are on the rise.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male ruby-throated hummingbird perches near a feeder that he is ready to defend from all comers.

“Seemed like a slow hummingbird summer,” he wrote. “But two days ago the babies started hitting the feeders and everything looks much brighter!”

I also enjoyed a recent phone conversation with Erwin resident Don Dutton, who wanted to know why hummingbirds have been scarce around his home this summer. I’ve noticed fewer hummers at my own home this summer, but it’s natural for numbers to fluctuate from year to year. I anticipate that numbers will rise as hummingbirds begin migrating south again in the coming weeks. At that time, the adult hummers will be joined by the young birds from this season’s successful nesting attempts.
Don shared that when he lived out west, he often visited Mount Charleston near Las Vegas, Nevada, where he saw swarms of hummingbirds comprised of various different species. In the eastern United States, the only nesting species is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

For readers who have felt slighted by hummers so far this season, perhaps it’s time to try your luck again at attracting them. The surest method is to keep a sugar water feeder available to attract them on their way south later this summer and into the fall. A visit to a plant nursery can also provide an abundance of blooms to use to lure hummers to your gardens. Some late-blooming summer flowers attractive to hummingbirds include canna, cardinal flower, gladiola and crocosmia. While the widely held belief is that hummingbirds prefer red blooms, they will gladly visit any flower that rewards them with a sip of nectar.501-7006-blk

Late summer and early fall, even more so than spring, are usually the best times to enjoy hummingbirds, when they are usually at their most common. There are a couple of reasons for this annual increase. First, nesting female hummingbirds have reared their young, which then begin visiting feeders and gardens to compete with their elders at flower blossoms and sugar water feeders. Second, adult males and females that migrated farther north usually begin swinging southward again in late July and early August.

According to the website hummingbirds.net, mature male hummingbirds usually follow an earlier departure date than adult females and immature birds. The organizers of the website theorize that by leaving early in the fall, the adult male hummingbirds free up resources for their developing offspring. After all, it’s the least they can do since adult male hummingbirds play absolutely no role in helping females with the process of nesting and rearing young. All young hummingbirds are, in effect, raised by single mothers.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens • A male ruby-throated hummingbird perches at a feeder for a sip of sugar water.

Despite their tiny size, hummingbirds are tough birds. One species, the rufous hummingbird, ranges as far north as Alaska. Several tropical species have adapted to the frigid conditions that occur at the higher elevations of the Andes Mountains.

As I have done in years past, I advise a patient but proactive approach for attracting hummingbirds. Keep feeders readily available. If possible, offer flowers, too. Don’t keep your landscape too tidy. A perfectly manicured lawn is like a desert for hummingbirds. Provide some shrubs and trees to provide cover and perching branches. Water features, particularly waterfalls and fountains, are also a reliable means of attracting hummingbirds, as well as other birds.

If you have felt slighted by hummers so far this year, keep a sugar water feeder available to attract them on their way south later this summer and into the fall. To share a sighting, make a comment, or ask a question, send email to ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

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Bryan Stevens has been writing about birds since 1995. To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Annual Fall Bird Count finds 125 species

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                  Red-tailed Hawks were found in good numbers on the recent fall count, but the species was outnumbered by migrating Broad-winged Hawks.

The Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society held its annual Fall Bird Count back in September. The chapter’s five-county Fall Bird Count, the 47th consecutive survey conducted by the chapter, was held Sept. 24. A total of 39 observers (and two yard watchers) found a total of 125 species. Oppressive heat on the day of the count probably negatively affected bird numbers.
The Fall Bird Count, as well as the chapter’s annual Spring Bird Count, surveys bird populations in the upper Northeast Tennessee counties of Carter, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi and Washington.
The annual count is compiled by long-time chapter statistician Rick Knight.
The recent count was most notable for low numbers of many species. “A curious statistic: we had more Cedar Waxwings than European Starlings,” Knight remarked.
The all-time high on for a Fall Bird Count was 137 species in 1993.
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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                     Blue-winged Teal were among the migratory waterfowl found during the recent Fall Bird Count conducted by the Elizabethton Bird Club.

The total for this year’s Fall Bird Count follows:
Canada Goose, 1,118; Wood Duck, 40; Mallard, 224; Blue-winged Teal, 4; Green-winged Teal, 1; Ruffed Grouse, 2; Wild Turkey, 23; Pied-billed Grebe, 3; Double-crested Cormorant, 16; Great Blue Heron, 30; Great Egret, 10; Green Heron, 2; Black-crowned Night-Heron, 2; and Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, 1.
Black Vulture, 159; Turkey Vulture, 222; Osprey, 7; Bald Eagle, 4; Sharp-shinned Hawk, 2; Cooper’s Hawk, 10; Red-shouldered Hawk, 5; Broad-winged Hawk, 25; and Red-tailed Hawk, 22.
Killdeer, 66; Spotted Sandpiper, 3; Least Sandpiper, 4; Pectoral Sandpiper, 6; American Woodcock, 4.
Rock Pigeon, 365; Eurasian Collared Dove, 2; Mourning Dove, 174; Yellow-billed Cuckoo, 1; Eastern Screech-Owl, 14; Great Horned Owl, 8; Barred Owl, 8, and Northern Saw-whet Owl, 1.

 

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Photo by Bryan Stevens Downy Woodpecker was the most numerous woodpecker tallied on the fall count.

Common Nighthawk, 3; Chimney Swift, 379; Ruby-throated Hummingbird, 30; Belted Kingfisher, 33; Red-headed Woodpecker, 1; Red-bellied Woodpecker, 61; Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 5; Downy Woodpecker, 42; Hairy Woodpecker, 10; Northern Flicker, 28; and Pileated Woodpecker, 32.
American Kestrel, 14; Peregrine Falcon, 2; Eastern Wood-pewee, 12; Acadian Flycatcher, 1; Empid species, 3; Eastern Phoebe, 68; and Eastern Kingbird, 1.
White-eyed Vireo, 2; Yellow-throated Vireo, 2; Blue-headed Vireo, 20; Red-eyed Vireo, 15; Blue Jay; 329; American Crow, 376; and Common Raven; 26.
Purple Martin, 1; Tree Swallow, 163; Barn Swallow, 1; Carolina Chickadee, 152; Tufted Titmouse, 124; Red-breasted Nuthatch, 12; and White-breasted Nuthatch, 36.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                 A total of 54 Northern Mockingbirds, Tennessee’s official state bird, was found on the count.

Brown Creeper, 5; House Wren, 3; Carolina Wren, 139; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 2; Golden-crowned Kinglet, 23; and Ruby-crowned Kinglet, 5.
Eastern Bluebird, 91; Veery, 4; Gray-cheeked Thrush, 6; Swainson’s Thrush, 89; Hermit Thrush, 1; Wood Thrush, 16; American Robin, 343, Gray Catbird, 48; Brown Thrasher, 14; and Northern Mockingbird, 54.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                    Red Crossbills were among the finches tallied on this year’s Fall Bird Count.

European Starling, 426; Cedar Waxwing, 506; Ovenbird, 4; Worm-eating Warbler, 1; Northern Waterthrush, 1; Black-and-white Warbler, 4; Tennessee Warbler, 12; Orange-crowned Warbler, 1; Common Yellowthroat, 10; Hooded Warbler, 4; American Redstart, 13; Cape May Warbler, 7; Northern Parula, 3; Magnolia Warbler, 11; Bay-breasted Warbler, 6; Blackburnian Warbler, 3; Chestnut-sided Warbler, 2; Black-throated Blue Warbler, 3; Palm Warbler, 16; Pine Warbler, 11; Yellow-rumped Warbler, 2; Yellow-throated Warbler, 2; Prairie Warbler, 1; and Black-throated Green Warbler, 8.
Eastern Towhee, 65; Chipping Sparrow, 24; Field Sparrow, 11; Song Sparrow, 83; Dark-eyed Junco, 95; Summer Tanager, 2; Scarlet Tanager, 15; Northern Cardinal, 138, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 43; and Indigo Bunting, 13.
Red-winged Blackbird, 61; Eastern Meadowlark, 10; Common Grackle, 156; House Finch, 51; Red Crossbill, 2; Pine Siskin, 10; American Goldfinch, 231; and House Sparrow, 38.

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The season’s first White-throated Sparrow showed up at my home on Oct. 30. I’m hopeful that the sparrow is but the first of many new arrivals ahead of the winter season. To share a sighting, ask a question or make a comment, send an email to ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Arduous migration journeys by some birds represent wondrous natural achievements

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                          This rose-breasted grosbeak struck a window Monday, Oct. 3, during fall migration. Although this bird rested and later recovered, many birds are felled by similar perils and obstacles as they migrate south each fall.

A stunned rose-breasted grosbeak recuperating on the front porch on Oct. 3 provided a reminder that migrating birds face a variety of perils and obstacles as they wing their way back south. Now that we’re into October, many of the birds of summer — orioles, tanagers, warblers and hummingbirds — are becoming scarce in our yards and gardens. These neotropical migrants are temporary visitors, remaining in North America only long enough to nest and raise young before they take to the wing to return to more tropical regions for the winter months that will grip their summer home in snow and ice for several months.

Some of these birds migrate out of the tropics to avoid competition. Others find North America a land of abundant, albeit temporary, resources. This land of plenty offers a wealth of insects, seeds, fruit and other nourishing, nutritious food to help parent birds keep their strength while they work to ensure their young thrive. The phenomenon of migration isn’t exclusive to the neotropical migrants of the New World. Birds in other parts of the world migrate, too.

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Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service                 The tiny ruby-throated hummingbird crosses the Gulf of Mexico twice yearly to migrate from Central America to North America in the spring and back again in the fall.

The Arctic tern, for example, truly takes migration to extremes. This small seabird travels each year from its Arctic nesting grounds to the Antarctic region, where it spends the winter months. Put into terms of mileage, the Arctic tern can travel about 50,000 miles in a single year. For a bird with a body length of about 15 inches and a wingspan of about 28 inches, this incredible migration is an astonishing feat.

The ruby-throated hummingbird, a favorite of many bird enthusiasts living in the eastern United States, makes an impressive migration each year. Just to reach the United States, these tiny birds undertake a strenuous journey. They leave their wintering grounds in Central America to return to the United States and Canada for the nesting season. Most of these tiny birds, which are barely four inches long, make a non-stop flight of more than 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico. The journey can take almost an entire day! With the end of summer, the entire population of ruby-throated hummingbirds, increased by a new generation of young birds, makes the Gulf crossing for a second time in a year to return to the American tropics for the winter months.

The broad-winged hawk, a raptor found in the region during the summer, makes a fall migration back to South America every fall that astonishes human onlookers who gather along mountain peaks to witness the spectacle. The hawks form large flocks, also called kettles, that can number thousands of birds.

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Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Steve Maslowski The bar-tailed godwit stages migrations that can take nine days of non-stop flight spanning nearly 6,000 miles.

Shorebirds, which in North America can consist of birds ranging from plovers and godwits to dowitchers and avocets, are champion migrants. The bar-tailed godwit makes an even more impressive non-stop migratory flight. This shorebird nests in parts of Scandinavia, northern Asia and Alaska. Some of these godwits make a nine-day non-stop migratory flight that takes them from New Zealand to the Yellow Sea of China, a distance of almost 6,000 miles. Needless to say, since the godwits make no stops along the way, they must also go without food for the duration of their journey.

Most of the warblers that nest in North America retreat to Central and South America during the winter months. Few warblers, however, make as great a journey as the blackpoll warbler. Instead of migrating over land, this five-inch-long warbler undertakes a two-stage migration. The first half of the migration is a non-stop flight of about 1,500 miles. Every fall, these tiny birds fly over the ocean during this part of their migration, departing from Canada or the northern United States and not stopping until they reach various locations in the Caribbean. There they will spend some time recovering from the exhausting first half of their journey before they continue their way to such South American countries as Colombia and Venezuela. Once again, during the time they spend flying over open ocean, these tiny warblers do not feed.

Even birds that cannot fly undertake migrations. For instance, flightless penguins swim hundreds or thousands of miles to reach preferred ranges for feeding or nesting. The Australian emu, a smaller relative of the ostrich, makes seasonal migrations on foot to ensure access to abundant food supplies at all seasons.

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Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Kirk Rogers         The Arctic tern’s migration, which takes it from the Arctic to the Antarctic, keeps this small seabird in the sky for about 50,000 miles each year.

Birds are not even the only animals to migrate. Many creatures, from whales and wildebeest to dragonflies and butterflies, impress humans with their endurance as they stage regular migrations.

Even as some of our summer favorites depart, we should prepare to welcome back some winter favorites, including dark-eyed juncos, yellow-rumped warblers, white-throated sparrows and yellow-bellied sapsuckers. Fall is indeed a time of departure for many birds, but it’s also a time to make new friends with the other birds that should soon start arriving in our yards and gardens.

As for the rose-breasted grosbeak on the porch, that story had a happy ending. After taking some time to recover after apparently striking a window, the bird hopped around the porch for a moment and then took wing and flew to nearby hawthorn trees. The bird’s flight — strong and straight — delighted me. The grosbeak could have been badly injured or even killed. I wished it the best for the remainder of its journey.

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I’m dedicating this week’s column to the memory of J. Wallace Coffey, a great birder and wonderful individual who died Tuesday, Sept. 27. I met Wallace, a native of Bristol, Tennessee, back in the late 1990s. He introduced me to some wonderful birding destinations in the region, including such Virginia locations as Burke’s Garden, Steele Creek Park in Bristol, the wetlands of Saltville and Musick’s Campground on Holston Lake. Wallace was a tireless promoter of birds, birding and birders, and he loved to encourage young people to explore nature. He was also a great leader for the Bristol Bird Club, as well as the Elizabethton Bird Club. He will be greatly missed.
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Bryan Stevens lives near Roan Mountain, Tennessee. To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Worm-eating warbler less conspicuous member of family of bright, active migratory songbirds

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Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service                The worm-eating warbler is one of the more nondescript warblers.

It’s September, which for me signals the autumn migration season of warblers and other neotropical birds. The warblers are a family of small songbirds that also happens to be the main reason I enjoy bird watching. Although warblers can be a challenge to observe and a puzzler to identify, they’re bundles of multi-colored feathers brimming with high-octane energy as they forage in treetops, along woodland edges, in weedy fields and around ponds and streams.

Like all migrating birds, warblers face numerous obstacles and hazards as they fly back south every fall after spending most of the spring and the entire summer spread across the United States and Canada for the season of nesting and raising young. Storms, such as the recent Hurricane Hermine, can be a hazard. Predatory raptors, like peregrine falcons and merlins, follow the migration routes and pick off various migrants. Even something as mundane as a window pane can bring a tragic halt to migration each year for thousands of our smaller songbirds.

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Photo Courtesy of Dianna Lynne Tucker           This worm-eating warbler perched on a flower pot while recovering from an impact with a window.

I recently received an email from Chris Soto, a fellow member of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society. Her sister, Dianna Lynne Tucker, resides in Elizabethton, Tennessee, near Holston Mountain. Her home has a yard that is a magnet for a variety of songbirds. One of the birds passing through her yard had an unfortunate impact with a window. Chris and Dianna already suspected the identity of the bird, but they emailed me asking for help to confirm it. I concurred that the bird was a worm-eating warbler.

“After a brief rest, the bird recovered,” Chris noted in the email. I always like a story with a happy ending.

The scientific name for this warbler is interesting. The worm-eating warbler, or Helmitheros vermivorum, is in a genus of one. It’s the only species contained within the genus. Vermi means “of or relating to worms” while vorum is related to eating. Hence, vermivorum is quite literally an “eater of worms.” The worms in this warbler’s diet, however, are not earthworms. Instead this bird feeds on caterpillars, the larval form of moths and caterpillars. The worm-eating warbler has one unusual foraging method to look for caterpillars. This warbler will often cling to a cluster of dead leaves while probing into the tangle to seek out any concealed caterpillars, as well as small insects and spiders. All in all, the worm-eating warbler doesn’t feed any more exclusively on caterpillars than other warblers.

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Photo Courtesy of Dianna Lynne Tucker         Like other songbirds, the migratory worm-eating warbler faces many perils during its annual fall migration.

This warbler’s non-musical song is a dry trill that compares with the songs of chipping sparrows and dark-eyed juncos. Since these other birds can be found in similar habitats, it can be a bit of a challenge for beginners to identify this warbler by sound alone. The worm-eating warbler isn’t one of the more colorful members of the family. It has a subtle beauty, however, with a plumage of brown and buff feathers. The most distinctive part of its appearance are the black stripes that run along the crown and a dark stripe through the eye. This warbler has a pinkish bill. Both males and females look alike.

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Photo Courtesy of Brian Rovira                        This worm-eating warbler recovered after striking a window at the home of Brian Rovira in Unicoi, Tennessee.

According to the website All About Birds, the oldest worm-eating warbler ever documented was a male that was at least eight years, one month old when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Connecticut. I’ve seen fewer of this particular warbler over the past ten years, but the overall population figures for this species have actually trended slightly upward. The worm-eating warbler’s population is concentrated in the southeastern United States. It favors deciduous woodland habitat with shaded banks, steep gullies and ravines. The habitat around my home must have changed enough that they are no longer a frequent visitor. The worm-eating warblers will migrate to Mexico and Central America this fall, electing to spend the winter months in warmer terrain.

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Early American naturalist and painter John James Audubon painted the worm-eating warbler in company with some native butterflies.

Warblers and their active lifestyles can be a challenge for human observers. Nevertheless, it’s worth the effort to seek out these colorful, energetic and interesting songbirds. Many people like to look for returning spring warblers, but I’ve always found the fall season the best time to look for these birds. September is the month when the majority of these warblers will migrate through our region. Warblers ignore offerings of seeds at our feeders, but a bird bath, ornamental fountain, pond or stream is like a magnet drawing these migrants to stop, enjoy a cool drink and a vigorous splash in the inviting water.

Keep a pair of binoculars at hand and your eyes open. If you’d like to share your observations of migrants passing through your yard this fall, I’d love to hear from you.

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Bryan Stevens lives near Roan Mountain, Tennessee. To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

October brings bird walks and new arrivals

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                      An Eastern Phoebe perched on a barbed wire fence.

The end of October punctuates the annual spectacle of fall migration. By the end of the month, most of the summer residents — hummingbirds, vireos, tanagers, warblers —will have migrated out of the region to distant wintering grounds. In the waning days of October, winter residents — Brown Creepers, Winter Wrens, Dark-eyed Juncos, Hermit Thrushes and much more — take up residence in our yards, where they will keep a low profile during the fewer hours of daylight during the long winter months.

So far, I have already welcomed a Marsh Wren and Winter Wren to my yard, and I am looking forward to the arrival of winter sparrows.

I have once again been leading bird walks every Saturday in October at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton. There are still two walks — Oct. 24 and Oct. 31 — for interested persons to attend and try to get a look at some of the late-fall migrants passing through the region. The walks begin at 8 a.m. Bring binoculars to increase your viewing enjoyment.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                One of the lingering Ruby-throated Hummingbirds perches in branches near a hanging feeder.

The first two walks were cancelled due to rain, but on a very chilly morning on Oct. 18 the first walk finally commenced. Five participants joined me for a morning stroll on the park trails and along the Watauga River. We saw Wood Ducks, Mallards and Canada Geese, as well as several flocks of Cedar Waxwings, along with Blue-headed Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warbler and several woodpeckers, including Downy, Red-bellied, Pileated, Northern Flicker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

At home, the seasons are definitely shifting. Although a few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds lingered (as of Oct. 18), the first White-throated Sparrow put in an appearance on Oct. 14. Winter residents are gradually displacing departing summer visitors.

Last year’s bird walks at Sycamore Shoals produced some good birds, including a female Common Merganser that was discovered in the Watauga River. Other good finds have been found in past years.

On Sunday, Oct. 11, my mother and I enjoyed watching a female Common Merganser on the Watauga River.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                    A Common Merganser on the Watauga River associated with Canada Geese and Mallards.

In Europe, the Common Merganser is called a Goosander, probably a nod to its large size that makes this bird superficially more similar to geese than ducks. Early naturalists such as John James Audubon also provided this bird with a different name, referring to it as the “Buff-breasted Merganser.”

For many years, the Common Merganser was one of my target birds. Finally, more than 10 years ago, I saw my first Common Mergansers during a visit to Middlebrook Lake in Bristol with Reece Jamerson, Gil Derouen and the late Howard Langridge.

Despite the word “common” in its name, this merganser isn’t particularly common in Northeast Tennessee. Its relatives, Hooded Merganser and Red-breasted Merganser, are much more regular visitors to the region.

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Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service                    A male Common Merganser takes a swim.

The Common Merganser, particularly the males, are easily identified. Apart from their large size, which is about 26 inches long for males, males of this duck have a dark green head and upper neck. The lower neck, breast and underparts are creamy-white with a varying amounts of a pink or reddish wash. The back is black, while the bill, legs and feet are red. Females are similar to female Red-breasted Mergansers but show a clearly defined white chin patch lacking in their close relative.

According to the website Ducks Unlimited, Common Mergansers breed from Alaska, the southern Yukon, Labrador and Newfoundland south to central California, Arizona, New Mexico, southern Chihuahua and east of the Rockies to Minnesota, Michigan, New York, New England and Nova Scotia.

They are also one of the biggest of North America’s cavity-nesting birds, utilizing natural cavities in trees, as well as man-made nesting boxes. They will also nest on the ground.

Common Mergansers feed mainly on fish, amphibians, crustaceans, mollusks and other aquatic organisms.

The last extensive population surveys of Common Mergansers took place during the 1970s, when the population in North America was estimated at 1.5 million birds.

May population surveys during 1970-’79, suggested a continental population of 1.5 million birds. Population tracking has been lacking in recent decades, but experts believe that Common Mergansers have a stable population.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                        A Common Yellowthroat hides in a tangle of brush during a migration stop.

When November arrives, I’ll be keeping watch for ducks making stops at the pond at Erwin Fishery Park or along the series of ponds located along the linear walking trail in Erwin. I’ll also make a journey to Wilbur Lake, one of my favorite destinations, to look for returning Buffleheads.

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To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, “friend” Bryan on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Goldenrod

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                        Blooming Goldenrod looks splendid in fall sunshine.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                      The Autumn Meadowhawk, pictured, and Shadow Darners are some of the final dragonflies flying around the fish pond as cooler weather arrives.

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Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                    Some Ruby-crowned Kinglets, such as this individual, may overwinter in Northeast Tennessee.

 

As September draws to a close, time to reflect on month of migrants

As September comes to a close this week, I decided to look back and see how the pace of fall migration proceeded throughout the month here at my home in Hampton, Tennessee.

On the first day of September, which doubled as Labor Day this year, I saw a single Common Nighthawk, as opposed to the flock of 50 nighthawks I observed on the final day of August. I only saw one warbler, but it was a Chestnut-sided Warbler and different than the three species — Yellow-throated Warbler, Northern Parula and Magnolia Warbler — I saw on the final day of August.

Photo by Bryan Stevens  A Yellow-throated Warbler makes a migratory stop in my yard on the first day of September.

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                                                                           A Yellow-throated Warbler makes a migratory stop in my yard on the first day of September.

Other birds that helped me welcome September included several Gray Catbirds and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Brown Thrasher and family flocks of American Goldfinches and House Finches. Earlier in the day, I also watched and listened as a Common Raven flew overhead. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are also still numerous.

I tried to carve out some time each day in September to look for migrants visiting my yard, but the weather and my work schedule didn’t always make that possible. Nevertheless, I spent a good amount of time scanning for migrants at every opportunity this past month.

I call my “migrant watching” my “lawn chair birding” because some of the time I am seated in a plastic lawn chair scanning trees and shrubs for any sign of movement. I spent a lot of time on my feet, however, since a flash of color or an unknown chip note sends me searching. My mother joins me much of the time, and she has a welcome ability to detect movement among the green leaves of the trees.

Photo by Bryan Stevens Some of the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks migrating through this fall still retain some of their rosy color.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
Some of the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks migrating through this fall still retain some of their rosy color.

One particular spot in the yard seems better than others for detecting migrating visitors. Some hawthorn and willow trees, as well as an American holly and wild cherry trees, line the creek that flows past the yard. On the other side, the fish pond borders these trees. The branches of dead conifers offer attractive perches for such birds as Eastern Wood-Pewees and Cedar Waxwings, as well as the occasional warbler.

On Sept. 5, I enjoyed another good evening of lawn chair birding, adding a few new warblers for the fall to my list. I saw four species, but two of them — immature Black-and-White Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler — were new for the fall. I also saw Chestnut-sided Warbler and Northern Parula. A sizable flock of at least 50 Common Nighthawks passed overhead at one point in the evening. Other sightings included Eastern Phoebe, Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbirds, Wood Thrush, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-eyed Vireo and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. All the resident feeder birds have enjoyed a good nesting seasons. The numbers of Song Sparrows in the yard are showing a definite increase. Three Mallards, which often spend the winter on the creek and fish pond, also made their return on Sept. 5 after an absence of a couple of months.

Redstart-Perch

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                              A young American Redstart perches on high to hawk for insects.

On Sept. 6, I saw a Cape May Warbler (young male) feeding low in vegetation in the swampy area near the old rock springhouse in the backyard. It might seem odd to find a Cape May feeding so low to the ground, but it was at the base of the large Norway Spruce growing in my shady backyard. This is a new warbler for the fall migration season. The day also brought sightings of Magnolia Warblers and a Northern Parula. An Eastern Phoebe spent a lot of time snapping up flying insects. A few Common Nighthawk returned, and were joined in their soaring overhead by Chimney Swifts.

Sept. 8 was a little slow as far as migration goes, but I did manage to glimpse an American Redstart and a Cape May Warbler, as well as a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. The biggest excitement of the evening came with the discovery of a hatchling Snapping Turtle that had dug its way out of the nest that the mother turtle dug back in June.

Before a deluge of rain arrived on Sept. 11, my mom and I did some lawn chair birding and found six warblers — Wilson’s, Tennessee, Magnolia, Cape May, Chestnut-sided and Hooded — as well as a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a flock of five Chimney Swifts, Gray Catbirds, Brown Thrasher, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and all our feeder birds.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Scarlet Tanager feeds on wild cherries.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Scarlet Tanager feeds on wild cherries.

The Wilson’s Warbler, a male, was only the third of its kind that I have seen here at home. This was also the second male; a female Wilson’s also visited one fall.

I didn’t have a lot of time for lawn chair birding on Sept. 12, but I did enjoy observations of Gray Catbirds, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and a Brown Thrasher.

In addition, I encountered a large flock of Common Nighthawks over Bell Cemetery in Limestone Cove, Unicoi County. I also encountered a “swarm” of dragonflies over the now-closed swimming pool at Erwin Fishery Park. The swarm didn’t consist of just dozens or hundreds of these insects. There must have been thousands of dragonflies. I think the majority of them were Green Darners. They were harvesting some sort of flying gnats. At the same time, Chimney Swifts were plunging through the swarm, but I think the swifts were after the same gnats as the dragonflies. A flock of Cedar Waxwings also got joined the scene for awhile.

The rain brought out the warblers and other migrants on Sept. 13. I observed two Cape May Warblers, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, male Black-throated Blue Warbler, male Hooded Warbler, Tennessee Warbler and an American Redstart. I also watched Cedar Waxwings, Brown Thrashers, Gray Catbirds, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Downy Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, American Goldfinches, House Finches, Song Sparrows, Eastern Towhees, Carolina Wren, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches and probably a few other birds. I guess that it’s true that foul weather brings out the birds. This makes sense. Under conditions such as bad weather, the birds probably have to work harder to find enough food.

On Sept. 14 — an overcast Sunday — I had time to do a little lawn chair birding before leaving for work. A new warbler for the fall list, a female Common Yellowthroat, put in an appearance, joined by a Cape May Warbler and two American Redstarts. A Belted Kingfisher also stopped by the fish pond.

I had time to do two sessions of lawn chair birding on Sept. 15. The afternoon session of lawn-chair birding with my mom really paid off. New for the fall was a Swainson’s Thrush. Warblers included three American Redstarts (including an adult male), as well as Tennessee Warbler, Magnolia Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler. We also observed were Indigo Buntings, Brown Thrashers, Gray Catbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Cedar Waxwings and an Eastern Phoebe. I hope to go back out for another session before dark.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A young male Rose-breasted Grosbeak visits a feeder in September of 2013. Young males resemble females but show a splash of orange on the breast that will be replaced the following spring by the familiar rosy-red patch.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A young male Rose-breasted Grosbeak visits a feeder in September of 2013. Young males resemble females but show a splash of orange on the breast that will be replaced the following spring by the familiar rosy-red patch.

The evening session of lawn-chair birding on Sept. 15 delivered some results, too. Male Hooded Warbler and Black-throated Blue Warbler showed up, as did a rather drab Cape May Warbler. A Scarlet Tanager showed up to compete with the Gray Catbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Cedar Waxwings for wild cherries.

I also had a close encounter with a young Ruby-throated Hummingbird, which hovered in front of me as it turned the tables and observed me for a moment. I wanted to try for a photo, but was sure if I moved I would scare it off. I did manage to get photos of the Hooded Warbler, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a pair of “kissing” American Goldfinch. Actually, it’s a photo of a female goldfinch feeding one of her insistently begging young. A nearby male goldfinch was besieged by six hungry youngsters.

This evening of Sept 20 will likely prove the peak for warbler migration in the yard this fall. We’ll see if any of September’s remaining days can top it. New migrants for the fall season included a Bay-breasted Warbler, Summer Tanager and a Blue-headed Vireo. The other warblers for an evening of lawn chair birding with my mom included Tennessee, Magnolia, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided, Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Yellow-throated, Black-and-White and American Redstart. So, 10 species in one evening is rather good! In addition, we watched Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Gray Catbirds, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Cedar Waxwings and three Common Nighthawks soaring overhead. There was also an Eastern Wood-Pewee and, calling but not seen, a Red-eyed Vireo. All the feeder birds were present, too. We had Northern Cardinals, Eastern Towhees (including two recently fledged young), American Goldfinches, House Finches, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wrens, White-breasted Nuthatches, Mourning Doves, Blue Jays, Downy Woodpecker and a Pileated Woodpecker calling on the ridge.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Black-and-white Warbler forages along a branch.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Black-and-white Warbler forages along a branch.

Lawn chair birding was interrupted by rain on Sept. 21, but before then I did see some Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, a Brown Thrasher, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Gray Catbirds and a Tennessee Warbler. I have a feeling there would have been more to see if not for the rain.

The chill in the air on Sept. 22 ensured that fall’s imminent arrival would bring some cooler temperatures. The birds were rather active during lawn chair birding, but the diversity had decreased. I did see Tennessee Warbler, Magnolia Warbler and American Redstart, as well as Cedar Waxwings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Gray Catbirds, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and assorted feeder visitors.

Lawn chair birding on Sept. 23 produced one new species — Palm Warbler — for the first day of fall. Other warblers included several Tennessee Warblers, well-marked Bay-breasted Warblers, American Redstart and Magnolia Warbler. I also saw Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (including males still showing quite a bit of color), Cedar Waxwings, Gray Catbirds, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Towhee and more. I also observed a male American Goldfinch taking some of his young to a sunflower head for a do-it-yourself snack. Young goldfinches must be very experimental in their tastes. This afternoon, I watched some clinging to branches over the pond so they could feed on pond slime/algae. Unless they were extracting bugs from the stuff, it seemed like an odd behavior to me.

Photo by Bryan Stevens  A migrating Blue-headed Vireo has captured a prey item for a quick snack.

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                                              A migrating Blue-headed Vireo has captured a prey item for a quick snack.

Bird activity was subdued on Sept. 26, but during lawn chair birding I did get a new fall arrival with the Palm Warbler in the gnarled remains of a peach tree. I also saw a Tennessee Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Cedar Waxwings, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, White-breasted Nuthatches, American Goldfinches, Eastern Towhee, Carolina Wrens, Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice.

On Sept. 27, I took part in the annual Fall Bird Count conducted by the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society. The day produced some warblers, especially along the linear walking trail adjacent to the Watauga River. The species include Magnolia, Common Yellowthroat, Cape May and Northern Parula. You shoulI got home in time to add a few warbler species from my own yard, including Tennessee Warbler and Magnolia Warbler.

••••••

Michael Briggs of Erwin asked me via Facebook when he should curtail feeding hummingbirds for the season.

I informed Michael that I usually keep feeders up through at least late November, hoping to attract western “stray” hummers such as Rufous and Allen’s that come through in late fall and early winter. Depending on temperatures, I may keep at least one feeder available even later.

Photo by Bryan Stevens Although Ruby-throated Hummingbirds usually depart in early October, keep your feeders available to benefit stragglers and to attract western species of hummingbirds that migrate through the region.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
Although Ruby-throated Hummingbirds usually depart in early October, keep your feeders available to benefit stragglers and to attract western species of hummingbirds that migrate through the region.

Parade of fall warblers has begun

I love warblers!

Among my birding friends, it’s no secret the warblers are among my favorite birds. I impatiently await the start of fall migration each year knowing that it holds the potential of bringing about two dozen warbler species to my yard. The trickle of fall migrants has already started with the arrival of juvenile Chestnut-sided Warblers and American Redstarts to my yard on Aug. 19.

Photo by U.S Fish and Wildlife Service A Kentucky Warbler brings food to young in a nest.

Photo by U.S Fish and Wildlife Service
A Kentucky Warbler brings food to young in a nest.

The wood-warblers, the more clinical name for this group of birds, consist of 116 species exclusive to the New World. About half of the species collectively make their home in North America for at least a few months out of the year. The others range throughout the Caribbean, as well as Central and South America. Most of them are noted for leading frantic, fast-paced lives that are far from sedentary. For this reason, they can be extremely challenging to observe with a pair of binoculars.

Hooded_Warbler

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service A female Hooded Warbler sits tight on her nest.

The Chestnut-sided Warbler and American Redstart nest at various locations in Southwest Virginia and Northeastern Tennessee, but they are not usually present during the summer months. I do host a few species of warblers that nest in the woodlands around my home. These include Hooded Warbler, Northern Parula, Black-throated Green Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler and Ovenbird.

OvenBird-Photo

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Although usually silent in the fall, Ovebirds have a distinctive, ringing song they sing constantly in the spring.

One of the last warblers to arrive at my home this spring was the enigmatic Ovenbird. With its loud, ringing song — “Teacher! Teacher! Teacher!” — it’s impossible not to notice the arrival of this warbler. So, even after the other summer warblers had already been present for a couple of weeks, I finally heard the song of an Ovenbird ringing from the woods.

Why do I describe this warbler as enigmatic? For starters, Ovenbirds do not easily permit even stealthy birders to glimpse them. I have gotten good looks at Ovenbirds throughout the years, but they are still difficult to observe. They are one of the warblers more easily heard than seen. When they are observed, it’s usually no more than a fleeting look before the bird dives back into heavy cover.

The Ovenbird is not one of the brightly colored warblers, such as Blackburnian Warbler or Yellow Warbler. The Ovenbird is a small brown bird with a white breast with dark streaking — an appearance that bears a superficial resemblance to the larger thrushes that share the same woodland habitat. The only hint of color is an orange crown bordered by dark stripes atop the bird’s head. Even this orange crown patch is not easily seen. When agitated, an Ovenbird may raise its head feathers, which makes this orange mark easier to detect. The Ovenbird also has a distinct white ring around its eyes. They also have pink legs and a pinkish bill.

The Ovenbird, unlike many warblers, is not named for its appearance. Instead, the bird’s name derives from the shape of the nest it builds. The nest is a domed structure placed on the ground, woven from vegetation and containing a side entrance. Early European settlers in North America thought the nest looked like a Dutch oven, hence the name “ovenbird” for the small warbler with the intricate nest.

Rather than hopping along the length of a branch or limb, an Ovenbird walks in a deliberate fashion. This bird feeds on insects, spiders and other small prey items foraged from the woodland floor. On rare occasions, a lingering Ovenbird shows up at feeders during the winter months.

Ovenbirds spend the summer nesting season in mature deciduous and mixed forests across Canada and the eastern United States. Ovenbirds migrate each fall to the southeastern United States, the West Indies, and from Mexico to northern South America for the winter season.

The two warblers most closely related to the ovenbird are the Louisiana Waterthrush and Northern Waterthrush. These atypical warblers share a preference for leading lives spent mostly near the ground adjacent to streams. The Louisiana Waterthrush seeks out the rushing water of our mountain streams during early spring while the Northern Waterthrush prefers quiet pools of water farther north during its nesting season. The Ovenbird, however, is not as closely associated with water.

*****

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Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter A Magnolia Warbler perched on an evergreen bough.

The last day of August provided fantastic lawn chair birding here at home. I saw a Scarlet Tanager, Red-eyed Vireo, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood-Pewee, an Epidomax “empid” flycatcher species and a flock of at least 50 Common Nighthawks. I also added three fall warblers to my list: Yellow-throated Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Northern Parula and Magnolia Warbler. I also saw plenty of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Gray Catbirds, a Brown Thrasher, Cedar Waxwings, Downy Woodpecker and many of the regular feeder visitors.

The arrival of September brought even more warblers to my yard as they make brief visits during their fall migration. I had better luck with lawn chair birding while saying goodbye to August than I did welcoming September. On this first day of September that was also Labor Day, I saw a single Common Nighthawk, as opposed to last night’s flock of 50. I only saw one warbler, but it was a Chestnut-sided Warbler and different than the species I saw last night. Other birds that I observed including several Gray Catbirds and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Brown Thrasher and family flocks of American Goldfinches and House Finches. Earlier that same day, I watched and listened as a Common Raven flew overhead. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are also still numerous.

NorthernParula

Photo by Bryan Stevens A migrating Northern Parula forages for insects in the branches of a Blue Spruce.

My lawn chair birding on Sept. 3 was brief but interesting. One new warbler, a male Canada Warbler, showed up, as well as two Northern Parulas that spent all their time chasing each other through the holly and the willow trees. I also got a fleeting glimpse of a Magnolia Warbler. In the sky overhead, a single Chimney Swift glided through the air with a trio of Common Nighthawks.

The cast of migrants changes almost daily. I enjoyed a good evening of lawn chair birding on Sept. 5, adding a few new warblers for the fall to my list. Only saw four species, but two of them — immature Black-and-White Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler — were new for the fall. I also saw Chestnut-sided Warbler and Northern Parula. A sizable flock of at least 50 Common Nighthawks passed overhead. Other sightings included Eastern Phoebe, Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbirds, Wood Thrush, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-eyed Vireo and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. All the resident feeder birds have enjoyed a good nesting seasons with numbers of Song Sparrows in the yard are showing an increase.

BlackThroated_Green_Warbler_Female

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service A female Black-throated Green Warbler perches in a conifer.

I was surprised On Sept. 6 with an observation of a Cape May Warbler (a young male) feeding low in vegetation in the swampy area of the backyard. It might seem odd to find a Cape May feeding so low to the ground, but it was at the base of a large Norway Spruce. This was a new warbler for the fall migration season. That same day, I observed two Magnolia Warblers and a Northern Parula. In the evening, small flocks of Chimney Swifts and Common Nighthawks flew over my home.

So, the first week in September has seen fall migration off to a good start. I love to hear  what others are seeing as the fall season advances. Email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or comment here at my blog.

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Photo Courtesy of Jean Potter A female Black-and-white Warbler gathers nesting material.