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Migration begins as temperatures cool

By Taylor PiephoffBy Taylor Piephoff
Taylor Piephoff
Taylor Piephoff writes on birding in the Piedmont.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/08/29/17/26/1ffGKV.Em.138.jpeg|292
    COURTESY OF CATHY MILLER - COURTESY OF CATHY MILLER
    The worm-eating warbler is an uncommon species and has a prominently striped head.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/08/29/17/27/11F7UP.Em.138.jpeg|435
    DON WILLIAMSON - Staff Photographer
    Taylor Piephoff

Last Saturday, I met a small group of local birders for some early fall birding. Our goal was to take advantage of the unseasonably cool temperatures resulting from the strong cold front that had passed through the day before.

Not only do such fronts make it more bearable to be in the field in August, but they also carry loads of migrants riding the northwest and northerly winds that accompany the fronts. When birders shift their focus to fall migration, we always watch the weather forecasts for the next shot of cool air.

This front was unusually early, so my expectations were not as high as if it had occurred in mid-September or early October. Still, I did expect to find some birds moving.

I was the last to arrive at the appointed meeting place along Mallard Creek Greenway, and the group was already looking at an adult male American redstart.

We were able to account for several blue-gray gnatcatchers, a pine warbler that may have been a resident bird and one worm-eating warbler, an uncommon species that I am always glad to see. It’s a drab warbler with a prominently striped head.

Several hummingbirds enjoyed the blooming jewelweed along the path while juvenile red-bellied and hairy woodpeckers worked the larger limbs of some trees. A red-eyed vireo even sang for a while, evidently confused by the springlike temperatures.

When looking for fall migrants, birders always seek the noisy Carolina chickadee and tufted titmouse family flocks. Migrants are drawn to these birds, so there is usually something different with them. One such flock held one, possibly two Northern parulas, a dainty blue-gray and yellow warbler species.

So the fall neotropical migration season got off to a decent start this day. With each forthcoming cool front, the migrant numbers and diversity will increase. Here’s to looking forward to a productive season of fall birding.

Taylor Piephoff is a local naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: piephofft@aol.com.
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