Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.
There’s so much I like about this time of year.
I know, I know, I could block-save those words and start every other column with them.
Mid to late fall does have a lot to offer birdwatchers, though, despite the falling temperatures and fleeting daylight.
Right off the bat, it’s time for waterfowl migration. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong when there’s migrating waterfowl around. One glimpse of a merganser, ring-necked duck or bufflehead and it’s a successful day, regardless of what else happens.
Finding and seeing waterfowl is no problem in mid fall, especially if you have a spotting scope. Basically, all you do is find water. Getting close looks or trying to photograph or hunt the creatures is a different matter; unless it’s a nonmigratory mallard or Canada goose, waterfowl are wary.
I like when the leaves fall off the trees because birds such as woodpeckers and kinglets are easier to find. However, the millions upon millions of leaves must land somewhere, right? Obviously, they fall on the ground, making it impossible to sneak up to a pond’s edge to close in on wary ducks. Also, the fowl remember the spots where they heard noise and avoid that area for a long time. Believe me, I’ve waited them out before. They don’t come right back.
The crunchy leaves also make scouting for woodland creatures such as deer, turkey or grouse difficult. The critters hear you coming from a mile away, probably even farther away than that. It doesn’t help when we get dry conditions like we’ve had.
A hunter I once interviewed for a story likened walking around the woods on a dry fall day to walking on a bag of potato chips. He wasn’t kidding. Most hunters don’t have to worry about the leaves so much because they are at their spots well before sunrise.
Nature watchers can still see their share of sights, though, and fewer and fewer people are out there the colder it gets. Many birds are too busy filling up for winter to worry about flying away from the people who are in the woods. Aside from the usual suspects (chickadees, titmice, nuthatches), occasionally something unexpected presents itself.
My favorite sighting this fall was a flock of snow geese flying so high I could just barely see it with my naked eye. My attention was drawn to the sky by an airplane. I noticed, at least I thought I noticed, movement of another sort in the blue expanse. My 10-power binoculars helped only slightly, but enough to make me pretty certain it was a flock of snow geese. I’ve never noticed birds flying that high before.
Speaking of flocks, I’m more convinced than ever that European starlings are going to take over the entire bird world before long. I have seen some tremendous flocks this fall, the birds usually gorging themselves on some sort of berry or another.
Every time I see one of the gigantic starling flocks flying, I think of the written accounts that say passenger pigeon flocks used to be so large they blocked the sun. I certainly don’t wish the starling the same fate as the passenger pigeon, but a few less starlings would do a lot of bird species a lot of good.
As much as I’m enjoying this fall, it’s just not complete. My enjoyment of the fall season does not reach its apex until I see my first common mergansers. I’m sure plenty of people have seen these fowl already, but I’m still waiting. I’ve seen bufflehead and hooded mergansers, but no common mergansers.
I’m sure my common mergansers are coming soon, though, and you’ll be the first to know when they get here.