After a long spring and summer, the month of September marks the beginning of the gradual departure of our familiar migratory birds.
Since late March, with the arrival Eastern Phoebes and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, local birders have had the opportunity to see a wide range of neotropical migrants that spend the summer nesting in backyards and woodlots.
As the days wane and the nights turn cooler, migratory birds are prompted by a series of biological signals to begin the long arduous journey to the south. On this return trip, adult birds are joined by millions of juvenile birds making the perilous journey for the first time.
Most songbirds are “hardwired” to follow historical migration pathways, so youngsters are not reliant on their parents for directions to wintering grounds. Flying in the crisp night air, massive numbers of birds wing south along the east coast, some arriving in our area each fall morning.
This time of the year is particularly enjoyable for birders of all levels. Firstly, southbound birds can be found almost anywhere, from beach dunes to small inner-city patches of grass. The sheer number of birds often leads to surprising sightings without applying too much effort.
A beginning birder can be almost guaranteed an exciting morning without being overwhelmed by the chorus of birdsong typical of a morning during spring migration.
For more advanced birders, the challenge of distinguishing between juveniles and winter-plumage individuals of different species is often as enjoyable as seeing these same species in their spring finery.
Fall warblers and sparrows, largely decked out in drab browns and grays, present an opportunity for even the most serious birder to hone his or her skills. Unlike the spring, fall migration is drawn out over several months, so there is no excuse not to get into the field between now and Thanksgiving as we slowly say goodbye to many of our favorite, colorful birds.
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