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Mild temperatures mark start of fall migration

The cooler mornings this week heralded the fall migration, as far as I’m concerned. Cool late-summer and fall fronts with northerly components to the winds bring the warblers, vireos and tanagers into the southern Piedmont.

I took an hour or so last Tuesday to walk around the beaver pond at McAlpine Creek Park to find migrants. It was a birdy morning, with several flocks of noisy Carolina chickadees and tufted titmice working along the wooded margins. Migrants like to hook up with the chickadee flocks, so I always head right for them when I hear them.

I found a large birch tree with birds flitting through the canopy. Four or five blue-gray gnatcatchers were conspicuous, flying in and out of the tree. A sharp chip note revealed a nice male Northern Parula warbler.

A soft chattering call let me know a vireo was in the tree, but which one? Soon a bright yellow bird with yellow spectacles around the eyes appeared: a yellow-throated vireo, a bird I’m always glad to see. Another showed up right next to it.

I took a brief break from scanning treetops to check the beaver pond itself. Two great egrets and a belted kingfisher were patiently waiting for a careless fish or frog to serve itself up for lunch.

While watching these birds, I noticed a red-shouldered hawk noisily flying over and an immature Cooper’s hawk flying silently just over the wetland shrubbery.

The next wooded margin produced a hooded warbler with female plumage and an immature chestnut-sided warbler. The immature bird looks nothing like the adults, which sometimes causes confusion for casual observers.

So there were four species that morning that I would call true migrants. A small number but an encouraging start to the fall songbird migration. I would expect that number to triple or even quadruple in another three or four weeks. And the potential for spotting more interesting or uncommon species will increase, too.

It’s time to start looking, so grab your binoculars and check out the chickadee flocks or any small bird you see foraging in your shrubs or small trees.