I mentioned last week that winter-resident birds are now starting to infiltrate the feeding flocks of small land birds in our area. This weekend’s cold blast will surely accelerate their arrival and just as surely sweep many of the remaining seasonal migrants out of the way. Late October is a time of rapid turnover in bird species in the Piedmont.
One doesn’t have to listen very long in the field now to hear the familiar chip of the yellow-rumped warblers, one of just a few warbler species that might be found with any dependability here in the winter. They are a generally dull-plumaged warbler, but a close look reveals patches of yellow on the sides and rump. The migrant spotted thrushes are leaving now, except for the hermit thrush that is arriving to spend the next few months with us. Local woodpecker numbers are being bolstered by the arrival of yellow-bellied sapsuckers, the only woodpecker to spend just part of the year in the Piedmont.
Wintering song sparrows now occupy weedy fields formerly monopolized by the permanent resident field sparrows. A few swamp sparrows are mixing in, and I suspect this cold front may even bring the first fox sparrows of the season. Almost surely the first dark-eyed juncos and winter flocks of chipping sparrows will arrive, too. Numbers of white-throated sparrows will be growing in residential shrub thickets and backyard tangles.
Both ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets will be here. The golden-crowned has high-pitched calls that some humans cannot hear, versus the lower-pitched chattering of the ruby-crowned. Keep a sharp eye out for brown creepers, the tiny, inconspicuous birds that creep up tree trunks in a jerky motion. These smaller birds will be hunted by sharp-shinned hawks that also arrive riding the cold fronts of autumn. Check out any small pond or lake for arriving pied-billed grebes.
Conspicuously absent will be the red-breasted nuthatches and winter finches such as the pine siskin. After strong showings last winter, these species are not predicted to move into the Southeast this year.
Every day should bring something new into your viewing area. Keep a lookout for the changes.
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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