On Sunday morning I went out hoping to see some woodland birds – various thrushes, kinglets, sparrows, Blue-headed Vireos and Winter Wrens are all moving through now, and I was looking forward to seeing some of these birds. However, rain was in the forecast, and as I wasn’t sure how much time I had before it was supposed to start, I started my outing with a brief walk at Sarsaparilla Trail. I found lots of activity on the pond – several mallards, American Black Ducks and Hooded Mergansers were scattered among the hundreds of Canada Geese present, while a single Great Blue Heron was fishing patiently on the opposite shore. I was surprised there weren’t any other waterfowl species on the water or tucked among the reeds, and although I spent some time scanning the pond in case any Green-winged Teal or Wood Ducks were hiding amongst all the other birds, my search turned up nothing. Similarly, I found few birds of note in the woods: a few juncos and a single Golden-crowned Kinglet were the only migrants that I found, though the usual chickadees, nuthatches, robins, and a single Brown Creeper were present.
Waterfowl are starting to move through our area in good numbers now, so on Saturday afternoon I headed out for a walk around the storm water ponds to see if anything new was around. I chose a late afternoon visit to check on the geese there – they are usually heading out to the corn fields by the time I get there in the morning, so I was hoping to catch them returning for the night – bringing with them, I hoped, some other interesting species. I’ve had both Snow Goose and Cackling Goose there in the past, and I didn’t think it was out of the question for a Greater White-fronted Goose to stop in. It was a warm but windy afternoon, so I was also hoping to see a few late-season butterflies.
It was sunny and cold when I left this morning – only 5°C – with a wind blowing straight out of the north. This was quite a change from my walk at the ponds along Eagleson yesterday morning when it was 16°C and raining lightly. Despite the rain I found some good birds there, including a Belted Kingfisher, two Great Egrets, a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet along with the usual pond denizens. Even more surprising was the monarch I saw flitting about 12 feet off the ground in the southwest part of the park. I wasn’t sure if it was migrating or trying to find a spot to take shelter; it flew over the trees and looked like it intended to keep going.
The cool weather and gray skies arrived this past week, and with them came the fall birding doldrums. This usually hits me when I realize that we are now halfway through the fall migration season, and that more species have already departed than are still left to come. It’s going to be at least seven months before I hear another Ovenbird or see a flock of Barn Swallows swooping over farm fields; the Wood Thrush, the Eastern Kingbird, and the Yellow Warbler are all somewhere far south of here. Both the birds and the seasons are moving on, and this was made evident when we had to turn the heat on as the nights started dropping down into the single digit temperatures.
I headed out to the Eagleson Ponds yesterday morning, but didn’t spend much time there as there wasn’t much to photograph. After about an hour I ended up with 27 species, and for the first time in months I did not see or hear the Northern Flicker. Sparrows and finches were abundant – it was a mild morning, and several Song Sparrows were still singing. A couple of White-throated Sparrows were attempting to sing, too. A couple of those popped into view when I started pishing, as did an adult and juvenile White-crowned Sparrow.
I was intrigued by the small blue damselflies I saw lurking in the vegetation at the storm water ponds earlier on Sunday, so I returned later that afternoon with my net in order to catch them and identify them. The blue-type bluets are among the most difficult damselflies to identify, requiring a hand lens to see the male’s terminal appendages in order to distinguish between several similar-looking species. Fortunately there are fewer species flying this time of the year than in June and July, narrowing down the tricky possibilities to only a handful: Northern Bluet flies until mid-September, while both Familiar Bluet and Tule Bluet fly into October. Other blue-type bluets are already gone for the year, including Hagen’s Bluet (which flies until mid-August) and Marsh Bluet (which flies until early September).
My goal on Sunday was to visit the Eagleson Ponds briefly before heading out to the woods, but once again I had such a fantastic time there that I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I spent almost 3.5 hours there, completely circled the ponds on the south side of Emerald Meadows Drive only once (but backtracked multiple times), and found 32 bird species together. I also saw two odes – a Common Green Darner and a couple of bluets – and four or five butterfly species. It still amazes me how terrific these little man-made ponds have been these past two and a half months; and I don’t even need to drive there!
The Equinox fell on Thursday, and by then the winds were blowing down from the north, putting an abrupt end to summer. Although I quite love the crisp, cool days of fall, I hate the cold early mornings which require hats and gloves to stay warm. On Saturday I headed out to Jack Pine Trail, leaving at 8:15 – the sun is visibly lower in the sky now – and I wished I had brought gloves as my hands were so cold. A Blue Jay and some chickadees were feeding on seeds left on the ground in the parking lot, and it seemed strange not to hear any Red-eyed Vireos or Eastern Wood-pewees singing. Continue reading →