Wayne Benoit/Hanover, NH
The current run of unseasonably warm weather and the yellow and orange leaf “flags” in our maples notwithstanding, avian trends are pointing to fall. The calendar may indicate the autumnal equinox is three weeks off, but for the bird population the tide has turned.
On Whipple Hill, this is most evident from the change in the morning mix of song. The warblers, like the chatty ovenbird, are gone except for a few moving through in migration. The melodious Baltimore orioles and lilting song sparrows seem to have disappeared too. There are the occasional exceptions. I still have an eastern wood pewee hanging around, but I reckon it soon will depart following its other flycatcher relatives to their wintering grounds. An eastern phoebe was sighted today as well, and a ruby-throated hummingbird continues to visit its feeder.
But now the morning tends to be dominated by the species that will winter over. There are chattering black-capped chickadees, whistling tufted titmice, a trio of disputing white-breasted nuthatches honking and whinnying at each other, and the tapping of a downy woodpecker. There also are American goldfinches, the males still decked out in their bright yellow, breeding plumage finery.
The change of season also is marked by who is passing through. The northern yellow-shafted flickers started arriving two weeks ago. The flash of their white rumps as they fly up from the grass is an unmistakable calling card. Just now two were seen feeding in the grass in a field just a few yards from the house.
A variety of sparrow species will begin to pass through soon as well. Aside from attracting song and chipping sparrows, my yard does not have particularly good sparrow habitat. Many sparrow species prefer grassy and shrubby vegetation. Down in Windsor, VT, Lake Runnemede and the Connecticut River floodplain at the nearby Simon Pearce complex are both good destinations when seeking migrating sparrows.
Then there are the raptors. Mid-September is prime hawk migration season. The best place to observe that spectacle is from Pack Monadnock in Miller State Park near Peterborough, NH. Over the course of the fall observation season more than 10,000 individuals may be counted including broad-winged hawks, red-tailed hawks, bald eagles, golden eagles, osprey and sharp-shinned hawks among others. The following NH Audubon link has information on that program. http://www.nhaudubon.org/locations/raptor-observatories. Locally, the Mascoma Chapter of NH Audubon will host its annual hawk watch on Saturday, Sept. 13 at the Lebanon Airport.
Finally, the wait is on for the arrival of the over-wintering species. Dark-eyed juncos will be moving down soon from their northern breeding grounds, and by late October, red-breasted nuthatches might make an appearance from their boreal forest summer home.
As summer wanes, and we mourn the end of the vegetable and fruit seasons we can take some comfort that it’s never dull following the activities of our avian companions. Long live summer, but now it's time to get out and join the birds in this great evolving pageant we call fall.