Fall migration, while in its early stages is nonetheless in full swing right now heading for a peak in about the third week of September. As August winds down and Labor Day approaches, there are some opportunities to observe the movements of some species through our area.
Start watching for common nighthawks late in the evenings. They will be flying overhead most noticeably around 7:30 to 8. Sometimes the loose flocks can be rather sizeable, numbering a few dozen birds. Typically the number of individuals is much less but it is uncommon to see only one bird. If you see one, look around closely. They will be flying in the same direction. They are also often seen around the lights at area stadiums uptown. Some folks think they are bats but the nighthawks are much larger.
Flocks of migrating chimney swifts will begin to be seen at dusk too. These are also birds with long narrow wings that form small flocks as they pass overhead in rapid flight. As September approaches the flocks may grow much larger, numbering hundreds of birds as they search for large, old chimneys in which to roost for the night. If a suitable roost is found, it may be used for a few weeks. The numbers of birds may increase dramatically during that time, providing quite a spectacle as they spiral into the chimney together at dusk.
I have received several reports of pileated woodpeckers passing through residential areas where they are not normally seen. Usually the stay is quite brief, limited to one sighting as the bird moves through. I suspect these huge woodpeckers are wandering birds, perhaps dispersing fledged young from this season or perhaps displaced adults looking for new territories. Whatever the reason, they make a dramatic entrance when they appear at a backyard feeder or tree trunk.
There are already some smaller landbirds coming through too, though their presence may not be as easily detected without a purposeful search. Warblers and flycatchers from points north are here. Check out noisy feeding flocks of Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice for a few warblers mixed in. It is an active time for local birds now; and as always let me know what you are seeing.
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