Falling Leaves and Fall Warblers
American Redstarts move through the tops of trees with exactly the same weight and velocity as falling leaves.
This is the thing you realize about the 7th time to put your binoculars to your face to find not a warbler, but a yellow leaf spinning lifelessly to the ground. It occurs to be that this flittering foraging technique that Redstarts employ is likely an evolutionary advantage. Looking like leaves probably fools as many Accipiters as it does birders, particularly in the fall when Redstarts are dropping as fast as the Tulip Poplars.
If I have to be out of work, there are worse times than September to do it, so I’ve been spending a great deal of time at Mason Farm lately. The tract hasn’t had much in the way of a huge payoff yet, but the birds are trickling through, led by a multitude of young American Redstarts doing their impressions everywhere along the trail loop.
In the last couple days, the Magnolia Warblers have come on strong – no slouches at their own leaf impression – but with their heavier bodies and shorter tails, not quite as adept at fooling. I’ve been thinking a lot about distribution and abundance, and when I might expect to see some of the other warbler species. Magnolias are never the easiest to find in the spring, though I manage to stumble onto one or two, but in the fall they quickly establish themselves as one of the most common species around. Just in the last couple days I’ve found at least half a dozen each time out, and between Maggies and Redstarts, you’ve probably established 75% of the migrating warbler mass each autumn around this corner of the continent.
There have been others. Tennessees have been surprisingly abundant this fall, and just yesterday I had the season’s first (and likely only) Blue-winged along with what will undoubtedly be the first of many Black-throated Blues. At Mason Farm, however, the third most common was a spate of Palm Warblers, the drabber western version, scratching around the recently mowed fields. I was birding with an retired couple who’d been on one of my field trips at the last Carolina Bird Club meeting and they were excited to see them, easy as they are to overlook.
This fall, by which I mean in the last few days, I’ve already pulled down 12 species of warblers. 20 seems to be a foregone conclusion at this point. The only question being what birds will fall into my lap this year. Hooray for fall!