Nothing gets a birder’s juices flowing more than the approach of a strong fall cold front. The promise of northerly or northwesterly winds is sure to bring hordes of southbound migrants behind the front.
As day breaks the nighttime flyers drop out of the sky, presenting viewing opportunities of species not seen since spring migration and perhaps a true rarity or two.
Such a front came through on Sept. 8. I spent two full days preparing for it; deciding where I wanted to be the day after the front passed, changing my mind about the location, then changing my mind again. I wanted to be everywhere.
I finally decided on a stretch of Mallard Creek Greenway that has been good for migrants over the years. Three of us arrived about 8:30 a.m. and immediately starting seeing birds. The trees and weedy patches were filled with birds; habitat that just 48 hours earlier had been mundane at best.
Indigo buntings, brown in their fall plumage, foraged in the weeds. A few squeaky noises to lure birds into sight produced an inquisitive Tennessee warbler. Two chestnut-sided warblers, glowing green on the crown and back with pearly-gray underparts, followed closely, just ahead of a pair of magnolia warblers. A short stroll down the greenway to the next flock revealed an American redstart, Blackburnian warbler, Northern parula, common yellowthroat and Eastern wood-pewee.
The next stop was an edge of mature woodland with vines draping the trees. Here were two bay-breasted warblers, yellow-throated vireo, and the best bird of the day: a blue-winged warbler.
Flocks of American robins and cedar waxwings fed on the vines’ fruits while ruby-throated hummingbirds patronized the blooming flowers in the greenway cut. A yellow-billed cuckoo flew through the clearing, landed, then sat motionless for us to enjoy.
Later, a brief stop at another section of the greenway produced Northern waterthrush, black-throated green warbler and red-eyed vireo.
It was a great start to the peak time of fall migration. Later fronts into October and November will deliver different species, but the excitement they generate will not change.