Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.
The fall migration is miraculous when you consider the thousands of miles birds fly from their breeding grounds to their winter havens. It’s also miraculous in its ability to stir excitement into the hearts and bones of otherwise completely normal adult human beings.
Well, “completely normal” may be pushing it with some birders I’ve come across, but you know what I mean.
Take the other day for instance. I was relaxing on the patio toward the end of a long day when a sight literally lifted me off my seat and drew me closer.
No, it was a brown creeper. Brown creepers are just as their name suggests they are. For one, they are indeed brown. For another, they creep. They creep up trees looking for insects hidden among the bark. When they reach a point where they think they’ve exhausted a tree’s food supply, they fly quickly to the bottom of the nearest tree and start the creeping all over again.
To a birdwatcher, very exciting to see. To a non-birdwatcher, a non-event.
Judging by a mere photo, a brown creeper has to be one of the more boring birds out there. Small, brown, nondescript. Big deal.
But that’s the great thing about birdwatching. Big surprises come in all sorts of packages. Brown creepers, at least in New England, are seen primarily during the migration periods. So it’s not like you’re seeing brown creepers every day. Also, brown creepers are not seen all that often even during the migration periods, so seeing one at all is a somewhat rare occasion.
The other nice thing about seeing brown creepers is being able to watch that behavior of climbing up trees and flitting down to the bottom of the next one. It’s not an earth-shattering nature spectacle, but it’s an easily observable and interesting behavior to study.
Of course it’s not only brown creepers that provide these little surprises during the fall migration. Hundreds of birds fit the bill. Keep an eye out for tiny kinglets, too. These tiny birds — barely larger than a hummingbird — can pop up anywhere. I watched a ruby-crowned kinglet for several minutes last week as it flitted among the sedum in my garden. The sedum is the last remaining flower with anything left to offer birds.
The kinglet eventually led me to another fall visitor. A yellow-rumped warbler perched atop a bush near the sedum, drawing my attention away from the kinglet. Warblers, the kings and queens of the spring migration, pass through during the fall, too, to much less fanfare from birders.
The fall migration offers plenty of surprises although it is quickly waning. Get out there while you can.