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Migrating birds begin to show up in late August

The common nighthawk can be seen on its migration in late August, early September evenings.
The common nighthawk can be seen on its migration in late August, early September evenings.

I took a walk along Six Mile Creek Greenway last Sunday in hopes of finding at least a few migrants passing through. The weather was hot and humid even at 8:30 a.m., not the best conditions to find migrants, but by the third week of August they can be present in enough numbers to be detectable.

The greenway was surprisingly quiet; it seemed all the bird sounds were distant. A pileated woodpecker called a few times way off. A great crested-flycatcher then called, a little closer. A white-eyed vireo then started singing its odd song quite vigorously from some brush right by the path.

There were several family groups of Carolina chickadees, tufted titmice and blue-gray gnatcatchers; flocks that often beckon traveling migrants to join in. Despite diligent scanning with binoculars and listening for a telltale warbler “chip” note, I couldn’t detect anything new along the wooded path.

There is a pump station in an open field by the greenway. This field proved to be more productive, with family groups of blue grosbeaks, house finches and field sparrows flitting through the low brush. The male blue grosbeak flew to a wire and sang his rich warbling song. I had almost made it back to the parking lot when a loud, rich, high-pitched chip brought me to a sudden stop. I knew it was a warbler, I just needed to locate it before it decided to forage elsewhere. A movement on a low cottonwood limb caught my eye, and soon I was looking at a fine male yellow-throated warbler. This species nests in a few areas of Mecklenburg County but not at this site, so this was likely a migrant bird.

Yellow-throated warblers are one of my favorite warblers, smartly dressed in black and white with a bright yellow throat. I am always glad to see one here.

Another species that is on the move now is the common nighthawk. You can view nighthawk migration late in the evening from the last part of August through the first part of September. Simply step outside and scan the sky from around 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. with a peak time of 7:45 p.m. Nighthawks are big enough to catch your eye as they wing along to the southwest. Look for long, angled, pointed wings and a stiff-winged flight. With binoculars you can see white patches under the wings near the tips.

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

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