Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cold Front, Many Birds

Thursday, September 21, 2006
The night before last we got our first big cold front of the fall. Nighttime temperatures flirted with the 40s. We thought it might bring some birds our way and it did just that, producing one of the best fallouts of migrant warblers we've had here on the farm in years.

The front end of the cold front. It convinced many birds to the north of us to begin heading southward.

Each morning, after we get the kids on the bus, we spend 30 minutes or so birding from our back deck. We could go up into the birding tower, but most mornings it just seems easier to step out onto the deck--only a few feet from the amenities of the house, including the telephone, which always seems to start ringing just as we settle in for a spot of birding. Plus, we feel less guilty since our piles of work are just a few steps away. We're not really avoiding starting the work day, we're just keeping our eyes occupied while we finish our coffee and tea.

Over the past seven years, we've planted a jagged row of trees that are about 30 feet from the deck. Two clumps of three gray birches, a mulberry, a sycamore, and a weeping willow. These trees, even though they are not yet full-grown specimens, are major bird magnets. We're on a ridgetop, and these trees are near the high point of the ridge, with lawn on one side and a brushy meadow and thick deciduous woods behind them. So they stand out to the migrants flying overhead just after dawn. It's really amazing to watch the birds drop out of the sky and head straight for these trees, which they must recognize as having good foraging opportunities for caterpillars, leafhoppers, and other tasty foods.

This male scarlet tanager is molting out of his scarlet summer outfit and into his drab olive-green winter duds.

Yesterday we had a couple of moments when we did not know where to look, there were so many birds. When things would dies down, we'd head back inside, only to pop back out onto the deck when we noticed another wave of migrants passing through the trees. The tally for Wednesday was 52 total species (almost without trying) and 12 warbler species, 4 vireo species (red-eyed, white-eyed, yellow-throated, warbling), 4 thrush species (bluebird, robin, wood thrush, Swainson's thrush).

We get loads and loads of black-throated green warblers, aka BTGs in both spring and fall.

Today we had 56 species again, with 17 warbler species (including a Wilson's!), 5 vireos (adding Philadelphia), and 4 raptors (broad-winged, red-shouldered, sharp-shinned, and turkey vulture). Again we barely tried. If we'd been doing a Big Sit today, I feel confident we'd have surpassed 70 species easily.

A Philadelphia vireo--it's been a banner fall migration for them on Indigo Hill. I bet we've seen 10 of them, This one was even singing!

Digiscoping warblers and vireos is the very definition of frustration. If the bird sits still long enough for you to get the scope on it, you then need to hope it will be willing to wait for you to grab your digital camera, turn it on, slide it onto the scope, auto-focus, then zoom up slightly to get rid of the vignetting, THEN you push the shutter. I have hundreds of images of bare branches. They are all perfectly in focus with the proper exposure.

From yesterday and today's all-too-brief forays onto the deck and a short stint over lunch in the tower, I got just a few images. None is going to win any prizes. But they do document a couple of days when the birds were everywhere and I was home, able to enjoy them.

The only purpose of this shot is to show you that this cedar waxwing has an orange tail tip rather than the normal yellow). This is apparently due to their diet. Waxwings that eat a lot of Tartarian honeysuckle berries get orange tail tips rather than yellow ones.


On September 22, 2006 at 11:51 AM Anonymous said...

Wow. Mouth-watering envy here for your fallout. G

On September 22, 2006 at 1:55 PM Rondeau Ric said...

Anne had 6 species in the willow. you wupped our butts.
We did have Caspian Tern, does that count?

On September 22, 2006 at 7:21 PM Anonymous said...

I thought you learned some digiscope techniques

On September 22, 2006 at 10:36 PM Susan Gets Native said...

Lucky, lucky dogs!
I have to wonder what is flying through our area. I have been too busy to look.
I had better get my butt out there.