Migrant Birds Surround Us

by Jamie Bogart, Lloyd Center Research Associate

American Goldfinch – click to enlarge

On September 24, both a Red-breasted Nuthatch and Blue-headed Vireo visited our bird feeders at the Lloyd Center for the Environment. Compared to our familiar White-breasted Nuthatch, the red-breasted breeds further north and is less common, except during irruption years when high numbers head south due to food shortages. And the vireo, while breeding in our region, is on the move like other warblers heading south, and sees our bird bath (especially under drought conditions) as a perfect place to cool down.

Today at Goosewing Beach where Lepidoptera work is occurring, the surf was quiet, but a wave of Palm Warblers was busy foraging in the low upland vegetation. This is the time of year when an influx of migratory wildlife occurs, including masses of shorebirds whose migration started months ago and continues, giant clouds of tree swallows, swarms of Monarch butterflies in a good year, to name the more obvious spectacles. These also serve as a reminder to us that avian migration, which shift from breeding grounds to warmer wintering grounds, is in full swing across the region. We are fortunate to live within a mini-flyway for many migrants that covers all habitats, including the forest interior, which falls under the radar with so much focus on the sea.

On a recent getaway to the Berkshires where birding was the primary activity, I found myself “working” (as us naturalists often do), that is, creating a linkage between what I was seeing in the Berkshire Hills region (Northwest MA and CT, east NY) to what will soon arrive here in the Atlantic Coastal Plain region of southeast Massachusetts. Being far inland, the rich diversity of forest-dwelling passerines (perching birds) were the feature, particularly wood warblers of family “Parulidae” known for dazzling and easily distinguishable colors of males during breeding season, but which all change to a frustrating blend of yellows, greens, whites, and grays in the fall, challenging the best of birders to successfully identify the species.

Golden-crowned Kinglet – click to enlarge

Fortunately, many species still hadn’t fully molted during this mid-September trip, including the bird of the week, the Black-throated Blue Warbler. Multiple sightings of this brilliantly-hued mixed forest nester were seen near the forest floor where they commonly forage. Higher up in the canopy its close relative, the Black-throated Green Warbler, was also common. Other abundant species included the Black and White Warbler, the Magnolia Warbler, and the Yellow-rumped Warbler, the one warbler of winter in our region which passed through in numbers along a lake. Warblers seen in small numbers were the Blackburnian Warbler, including one bird still sporting brilliant orange in the throat area, the Blackpoll Warbler, a true boreal breeder common in stunted coniferous forests at high elevations and which was in its full fall plumage, and the Ovenbird, a secretive thrush-like warbler of the understory. Other warbler sightings included Nashville and Mourning Warbler, two less common species.

Other songbird groups were also encountered. At ground level the Hermit Thrush, the one ground thrush wintering in our region, was abundant, and the unique bird of the trip, the Swainson’s Thrush, was observed, this uncommon thrush only visible during migration in our region. Flocks of the American Robin, another thrush species, were on the move at treetop level, perhaps to join the giant flocks that will spend the winter here in search of berries. Red-eyed, warbling, and blue-headed vireos were all seen, the blue-headed variety common on the trip. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a woodpecker species increasing here in fall and winter, was abundant. For migratory raptors and waterfowl, we observed large flocks of wood ducks, a pair of green-winged teal, and mallards, all of which will head south. A Sharp-shinned Hawk visited one of our forest songbird flocks, perhaps a stop before it too, heads southward (to your backyard feeder).

House Finch – click to enlarge

Any of these bird species may be seen in the months ahead in our region, and most have been seen here on the Lloyd Center property at the feeders or in the forest. What species will pass through your property, here at the Lloyd Center, or wherever you roam?
The fall migration is underway, and front row seating is widely available!