Here is the latest For the Birds column that runs in several New England newspapers.
Early fall is an exciting time, not only for birdwatchers, but for watchers of nature in general.
Male white-tailed deer and moose have their antlers fully grown and ready for the rut, or breeding season. What were little nubs of antlers in early spring are impressive racks for fighting, intimidating other males and showing off in front of the females.
Some say that spring is the best time for watching nature, but only in the fall can we appreciate the beauty and majesty of fully grown antlers.
Seeing a bull moose in July is a memorable experience. Seeing a bull moose in the fall is an unforgettable experience.
Early fall is also a time when a birdwatcher can really pile on the numbers for a species-seen list. Herons and egrets are still around. Shorebirds are still migrating. Songbirds are moving south as well. Waterfowl start migrating through New England. Early waterfowl migrants such as blue-winged teal, pintail and ruddy ducks share the waters with the fowl that have been with us all summer.
The ducks that have been with us undergo a transformation in early fall, as well. Male mallards and wood ducks, which went through their eclipse in the summer, during which they were as bland as the females, are back in their ornamental plumage.
Some birds molt their colorful feathers for the winter season. The American goldfinch and common loon are such birds. But in the early part of fall, these birds still wear their popular plumage.
Many of the songbirds that will pass through, however, have lost their breeding plumage and look completely different than they did when they visited in the spring. Male scarlet tanagers, which were a prize sighting in the spring, are rather ho-hum looking during the fall migration.
As I mentioned last week, the big birdwatching draw in the fall is the hawk migration. Many nature centers hold raptor weekends, and spots that are known to be good for hawk watching, such as Pack Monadnock, draw big crowds in the fall.
There is still time to see wildflowers, butterflies, dragonflies, snakes, turtles and frogs in early fall as well. Just about anything you could want to see is available to you.
Finally, I can’t overlook nature’s most redeeming and popular quality in the fall: the changing of the leaves. This spectacle of nature draws thousands upon thousands of tourists to the region. I remember when I lived in Bennington, Vt., many years ago. The quiet, non-crowded town turned into a metropolis for the peak foliage week in early October. You couldn’t turn around with bumping into a Winnebago.
But that’s what nature is all about. One spectacle after another to wow the crowd. In the fall, though, the spectacles are easier to come by.