For the Birds: Fall’s magic

Fall is an exciting time for birdwatching with hawkwatches, the southern warbler migration, and, later in the fall, the waterfowl migration.

Early fall holds many non-bird surprises in nature as well. On recent walks, I have seen dozens of monarchs and other butterflies. When I walk through fields, I am constantly on the lookout for monarch caterpillars on milkweed plants. Rarely am I lucky enough to spot one, but it does happen on occasion. The other day happened to be one of those occasions.

Monarchs are struggling as a species as habitat loss, pesticides and, potentially, climate change have played a heavy toll on their numbers, particularly out West. I did read an article recently that said the numbers may be rebounding, however. That would be great news.

Dragonflies are still out in force as well and may keep birdwatchers occupied when birds are scarce.

During a walk after a rain recently, I had to watch my step as dozens of efts, or newts in the terrestrial stage, were scattered along the trail. Luckily, they are bright orange (at least most of them) and easy to spot.

Fall is also the rut for deer and moose. If you are lucky enough to come across a moose these days, the rut is an exciting, but also potentially dangerous, time to see them. Keep your distance and admire them from afar.

Be extra cautious on the roads in the fall as deer are moving about more than usual. Young bucks in particular are on the move looking for potential mates. Keep an eye out, day and night, as these deer have their focus elsewhere, and getting from point A to point B often leads them across roads.

Back to birds … In recent days, I have seen black-and-white warblers, yellow-rumped warblers, a Canada warbler, several Eastern Phoebes, and many common yellowthroats.

The fall warbler season is notoriously difficult for identification purposes as the young ones have not yet attained adult plumage and many of the adults have traded their spring breeding plumage for a duller non-breeding plumage. It can make for some very difficult identifications.

To make things easier, I suggest using a field guide that shows warblers in all of their plumages, including seasonal, age and sex differences. Many field guides show only adult breeding males and females.

I haven’t been to a hawkwatch yet this fall, but I was surprised and happy to watch a northern harrier hunting over a big field recently. Harriers are fun to watch as they glide slowly a few feet above the grass line looking for prey. Harriers are easily distinguished from other hawks in flight by the large white patches on their rumps.

This is a great time to be outdoors. The weather is not too hot and not too cold, wildlife is abundant, and the thought of winter looming makes one feel as if one should take full advantage of these remaining unfrozen days. Drop me a line and let me know what you are seeing out there this fall.