What a difference a few days can make when it comes to finding migrants passing through the area. The days following Labor Day brought loads of migrants, but as always, every cold front is followed by a warm up on the backside that can effectively stop the movement in its tracks.
So it was last Sunday. I got out early at McAlpine Park but was not too enthusiastic about the migrant birding since the forecast was for southerly winds with temperatures in the nineties with humidity.
I headed straight for the best birding area of the park; the beaver marsh that is adjacent to the lake. Immediately a great blue heron squawked as it lit on one of the wood duck boxes. A great egret, pretty much a fixture at that park for the last couple of years, quietly stalked fish and frogs in the shallows. A pair of belted kingfishers chased each other overhead, loudly rattling the whole time.
But the goal was locating migrants and that was more of a challenge. Migrant passerines will hook up with family groups of Carolina chickadees or tufted titmice, and though I located large groups of both the only possible migrant hooked up with them was a Northern parula. Downy woodpeckers and blue-gray gnatcatchers were included in the flock but were likely local birds.
The woods were full of American robins feeding on ripening berries and I got a brief glimpse of a female summer tanager but that was the only other species in that flock. Deeper into the woods however, a sharp, metallic chip coming from some permanent shallow puddles caught my ear. The call and the habitat enabled me to identify the bird before I even saw it; a Northern waterthrush. And then there it was walking through the water bobbing its back end in typical waterthrush fashion. As I watched it was even joined by another. Northern waterthrushes do not breed here so here were two true migrants.
And they were all to be had that day. The fall roller coaster ride was at a low point last week. Inevitably another shot of cooler, drier air will come in from the northwest, bringing another wave of new birds. Until then I will just have to sweat out the wait.
Taylor Piephoff is a naturalist with an interest in the birds and wildlife of the southern Piedmont: PiephoffT@aol.com. Check out his blog at piedmontbirding.blogspot.com