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Fall’s last hurrah

October 11, 2010

This past weekend was Beerfest weekend in Durham.  As an individual who enjoys a fine craft brew as much as I enjoy a day in the field (especially those instances where the two can be combined in some capacity), Beerfest is an event much looked forward to.  It always comes on the second week of October, generally when the last vestiges of summer are swept away by a couple timely cold fronts ushering out the air conditioners’ hum and inviting in cool evening breezes.  It’s a truly wonderful time of year in my neck of the woods.  For the general public in this part of North Carolina, this is the beginning of a long, lingering fall; pleasant weather stretching up until Thanksgiving or so.

But the birds, the birds have a different concept of the ebbs and flows of the seasons. By the time Beerfest weekend rolls around the vast majority of the birds of “fall”, by which I generally mean the neotropic migrants passing through on their way to Central and South America, have long gone.  By this time in October we’re starting to see the winter residents arriving in numbers.  This past week I spotted my first Yellow-rumped Warbler, the vanguard of the invading hordes.  White-throated Sparrows showed up this week and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker arrived at the Museum where I work on Thursday, right on time.  Every year I associate Beerfest weekend with the arrival of these true birds of winter, and this year was no exception.  When Noah and I arrived at Mason Farm Saturday morning we were immediately in the midst of dozens of ticking Myrtle Warblers.  Once they arrive in numbers they seem to swamp any other species.

White-throated Sparrows had taken their regular places in the brushpiles and Sweet Gum thickets too.  Outside of Juncos their ringing plaintive song, sung year-round, as certain a sign of cold weather as anything.

I was pleasantly surprised to find really good numbers of Palm Warblers feeding the short-cropped trail.  These were the bright yellow ones exclusively, a second wave of tail-wagging Palmies nearly a full month after the white western subspecies pass through.  I had several opportunities to get passable photos, but the birds seemed to flit maddeningly just ahead of me.  This subspecies of Palm is the one that spends the winter in coastal North Carolina in significant numbers though it’s unlikely any will winter this far inland.

Cold weather species are arriving in greater numbers every day.  It’s only a matter of time before the Juncos get here and slam the door on fall migration for another year. Another 7 to 10 days by my notes.  Time to break out the long underwear, at least once this 90 degree weather finally passes on.

  1. October 11, 2010 9:05 am

    “A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker arrived at the museum…”
    The poor creature. What was the cause of death? 😉

    Ah, the eastern Palm Warblers. I wonder if/when they will be split from the western birds? To me, Palm Warblers always functioned as a metaphorical bridge between the New and Old World birds, resembling a good ol’ Eurasian Anthus-pipit (and I am very fond of Anthus spec’s), yet clearly being something altogether different. I miss them here in Germany, and the Meadow and Tree Pipits offer little consolation.

  2. Nate permalink*
    October 11, 2010 10:36 am

    @Jochen – Wrong museum. This one doesn’t take dead birds. 🙂

    Palms certainly seem to fill a certain Pipit niche over here that might be covered by Tree or Meadow overseas. Our Pipit diversity in the New World is seriously sub-par, but I’d still take the Palmies over any boring old Anthus any day. Except Sprague’s, that’s a pretty cool one and since that’s 50% or North America’s pipits, I guess I the previous sentence is moot now.

  3. October 12, 2010 8:02 am

    Ha, you fell into the Anthus trap! It goes like this: “All Anthus species are brown and boring, except for this one, and this one, and this one, and … heck … all Anthus species are on the exception list! Hmmm, which one is just brown and boring then? Answer: NOT ONE!”

    I guess Anthus species are the Calidrises of the songbird world: small and brown but offering fascinating identification challenges and having a tremedous vagrancy potential (at least here in Europe).

    And regarding Palm Warbler versus Anthus pipits, I’d take either of them happily here in Germany, Palm Warbler or Sprague’s Pipit.
    By the way: Cirl Bunting or Yellowhammer sauce with your Wryneck?

  4. October 12, 2010 9:57 am

    Any hope for orange-crowned later that month?

    Always funny to see the difference in timing between my state (michigan) and yours. Juncos have been back since last september here. And we are probably already at the peak of the yellow-rumped! Quite a few red-breasted nuthatches too already. ….we are getting ready for 5 months of winter. sigh Let’s hope at least for a snowy owl or something good for the county list

  5. October 12, 2010 10:02 am

    @Laurent: Ha, just check the bakeries next to industrial wastelands for Snowies!!


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