Feathered Friends: Grosbeaks join other migrants

9:30 am | September 24, 2012

In the spring, vocalizing “Empid” flycatchers are not as difficult to identify. These look-alike birds have different songs and, for the most part, exhibit markedly different habitat preferences.

Photo by Metro Creative Connection
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, although they may not look as vibrant as this male in spring plumage, are among the birds migrating through the region this month.

That’s not the case during fall migration when the Empids — Acadian, Least, Alder, Willow and Yellow-bellied — go silent. With the possible exception of the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, these closely related birds have remarkably identical appearances that include eye rings and wing bars.

Other birds present in my yard Sept. 13 included Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Eastern Towhee, House Finches, American Goldfinches and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.

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On the evening of Friday, Sept. 14, I saw my first adult male American Redstart this fall. So far, the migrating American Redstarts have all been females or immature birds in gray, yellow and white plumage.

An adult male American Redstart is one of the most unmistakable warblers with its vibrant orange, black and white plumage.

A Magnolia Warbler and Cape May Warbler also put in an appearance.

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Saturday, Sept. 15, I spotted another new fall warbler when I found an immature Prairie Warbler in a stand of goldenrod. In addition, I got some good looks at a Northern Parula, Cape May Warbler, Northern Waterthrush and Tennessee Warbler.

I also noticed the number of American Goldfinches at the feeders has spiked. The adults are now bringing hungry and impatient fledglings to the feeders. These noisy, young bird make quite a commotion as they insistently beg for food as they incessantly follow their parents through the trees and shrubs in the yard.

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I did some birding Sunday, Sept. 16, at the Bell Cemetery in Limestone Cove and at Erwin Fishery Park, which are both located in Unicoi County.

I found a new fall warbler (Palm) at the Bell Cemetery, where I also observed a bright male Pine Warbler flycatching with a flock of more than 20 Eastern Bluebirds. The Pine Warbler and bluebirds perched on barbed wire and chain link fences as they watched for insect prey. When they spotted a target, they sallied forth, grabbed the flying bug and then landed on a fence post or section of wire to perch while they consumed their freshly-caught morsel.

A flock of more than 20 Chipping Sparrows, as well as 8 Eastern Phoebes, 1 Eastern Wood Pewee, 1 Song Sparrow and 1 Northern Flicker were also present in the trees and on the short grass in the fields surrounding the cemetery.

At Erwin Fishery Park, I counted 17 Wood Ducks on the pond with the resident Mallards and Canada Geese. A few dozen Chimney Swifts flew over the pond and, in trees around the pond’s edge, I found a couple of dozen Cedar Waxwings.

I didn’t find any warblers or other migrants at home Sept. 16, but I did watch as a kettle of 8 Turkey Vultures soared almost directly above my house.

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It was a little damp the evening of Monday, Sept. 17, but I still managed to spot two species of warblers: an adult male Common Yellowthroat in the willow tree at the fish pond and three Tennessee Warblers in a stand of sumacs.

The other notable sightings that evening included Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird and several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

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Tuesday, Sept. 18, saw heavy rain and was almost devoid of migrants. A male Hooded Warbler did make a brief appearance in the back yard. A few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds also dueled with each other between visits to the sugar water feeders.

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The steady rains Monday and Tuesday of last week succeeded in bringing some new migrants into my yard. Before leaving for work on the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 19, I saw the first Rose-breasted Grosbeak of fall at one of the sunflower feeders.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks nest in open deciduous woods across most of Canada and the northeastern United States. These birds also extend their nesting range into the southern United States along the Appalachians.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks migrate south to spend the winter season from central-southern Mexico through Central America and the Caribbean to Peru and Venezuela.

When these birds migrate through in the fall, the males are often less conspicuous than in spring. Well-stocked sunflower feeders are the best way to persuade these birds to linger in your yard.

I also surprised a Great Blue Heron, which had been visiting the fish pond. Needless to say, my unexpected appearance prompted the large wading bird into a hasty flight.

I also enjoyed another first-of-fall sighting when I noticed the Swainson’s Thrush in the wild cherry tree with four Gray Catbirds and a Brown Thrasher. The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were also very active around the sugar water feeders.

The Swainson’s Thrush is related to the Wood Thrush, which spends the summer season in the region, and the Hermit Thrush, which is primarily a winter resident in Northeast Tennessee.

The Swainson’s Thrush does not nest in the region, and is present only during the few weeks when it passes through each spring and fall.

Swainson’s Thrush was named after William Swainson, an English ornithologist. Other early naturalists named several of our birds in Swainson’s honor. John James Audubon named Swainson’s Warbler to honor the ornithologist.

It was Thomas Nuttall, an English botanist and zoologist, who named Swainson’s Thrush to honor Swainson, one of his contemporaries in the study of natural history.

Charles Lucien Bonaparte named Swainson’s Hawk, a raptor native to the western United States, in honor of Swainson. Bonaparte, a nephew of the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, was a French ornithologist. He traveled to the United States as a young man and studied ornithology for several years, becoming well acquainted with many North American birds.

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Thursday, Sept. 20, the morning started with temperatures definitely on the chilly side. Despite the autumn chill, I spotted a Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler and an American Redstart in the wild cherry trees.

Other birds present included Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches, Gray Catbirds, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

When I got home from work later that day, temperatures had risen to a more comfortable level, and I saw another batch of warblers, including several Magnolia Warbler, Tennessee Warbler and a Black-throated Green Warbler, which represented a new sighting for this fall.

Besides warblers, an Eastern Phoebe and Eastern Wood-Pewee stayed busy making aerial sallies for insect prey they caught on the wing.

A lucky Northern Cardinal fledgling received quite a mouthful when the young bird’s mother arrived with a plump caterpillar. She transferred the caterpillar to the young bird, which went to some comical effort to swallow the large caterpillar. Hungry young American Goldfinches also hassled their parents into providing them with tidbits of food.

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To share a sighting, ask a question or make a comment, call me at 297-9077 or email me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com. I am on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler.

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