Fall birders are well rewarded

August is the time for fall migrants, fledglings and the return of many species to the feeder. It marks the end of the breeding season and the beginning of an exciting transition. There are more birds now than at any other time of the year.

Typically we think of spring as the time when there ought to be the greatest number of birds on view, but when you really think about it, all of those spring migrants have now settled, claimed territories and mated. Thus, where there were only two birds a month ago, there are now entire families.

At the same time, many of those species that worked their way through here in the early spring are now returning to the region on their way back south. Likewise, these species have reproduced, which means there are more of them this time around.

Among these early fall migrants are the wood warblers. These tiny, intricately colored birds begin to leave their breeding sites as early as late July, and by late August most have begun the journey south. Some nest right here in Connecticut, but many breed farther to our north in the boreal forests where the nights have already started to get cold. Fascinating birds such as the magnolia, blackpoll, blackburnian and Canada warblers are now migrating through our region after nesting in remote northern forests.

Along the coast and freshwater mudflats, shorebirds are making their way south from the Arctic. Their southward migration actually begins slowly in late June and continues throughout the summer. Consequently, there have been reports of a few notable shorebirds such as the marbled godwit at Hammonasset and the American golden plover at Milford Point.

Closer to home birders might notice the resurgence of hummingbirds at their nectar feeders. Immediately before migrating these tiny birds will go from an average weight of 3 grams to roughly 4.5 grams at a rate anywhere from 1 to 13 percent of their body weight gained each day. The excess fat or energy reserves will be needed to maintain flight speeds that average between 25 to 50 miles per hour. Most, but not all, hummingbirds will again cross the Gulf of Mexico on their return trip. This non-stop flight will cover 600 miles and will take about 18 to 20 hours. Approximately 1.5 grams of fat will fuel the bird's 600-mile trip with energy to spare.

Brilliant colored rose-breasted grosbeaks have made their way back to my feeder, too. They first appeared in early May, making quick work of the sunflower seeds but then changed their feeding habits with the onset of the breeding season. Now, they have returned in greater numbers.

It is interesting how the spring migration gets us out in the field, and the fall migration, even with its huge numbers, is often overlooked. While the spring migration is more concentrated, I believe the real reason for the popularity of spring migration is because we are eager to get outdoors after the long winter. Perhaps by August we take the sweet warm summer days for granted and forget how quickly the snow will fly.

Robert Tougias is a birding author who lives in Colchester. He offers color slide presentations and takes questions at rtougias@snet.net.


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