Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fall Migration

The seasons are noticeably changing in Wisconsin. Cooler nights followed by crisper, shorter days have the birds moving again.

Canada Geese are the most recognizable birds overhead now. Constantly reorganizing their lopsided ‘V’, they make their presence known to each other and to us, too.

Honking seems to be their way of insuring inclusion in the group as they migrate south.

An osprey watches the Milwaukee River flow below. Long before ice will cover the river the ospreys will have departed.

Ospreys are known to migrate long distances and this one could easily be in South America for the winter. Ospreys need an ice-free environment to fish.

They fish with dramatic feet-first plunges into the water. Sharp talons and barb-soled feet hold fast a slippery fish.

When flying, they point the stupefied fish face-forward into the wind to reduce resistance.

It must be a surreal experience for the fish.

This Hermit Thrush was poised for a quick retreat if I came any closer. He looks to be a first year juvenile, newly on his own and unsure of whether to stay or go.  

Whichever and wherever, he will be leaving for the winter.

A ground foraging bird, the Hermit Thrush would find few resources in a snow-covered Wisconsin.

A Great Crested Flycatcher has caught a large aquatic insect, but his prey is putting up a struggle. He wants to eat it, but it won’t go down, so first he must tenderize his unmanageable mouthful.

Several well-aimed pile driver whacks on the head takes the fight out of his prey and the deftly dispatched delicacy is devoured.

This Eastern Towhee was passing through Wisconsin on his out-migration to somewhere else.

He stopped to inspect our lawn for seeds and whatever else he could find grazing in the grass.

The Eastern Towhee is a secretive ground dwelling bird. By planting both feet squarely in the leaf litter then hopping backwards, he drags a space clean, uncovering insects and invertebrates in the process.

He pounces on whatever he finds.

A young Northern Cardinal rapidly quivers his wings to his mother. She comes running with a seed to answer his call.  Now losing his downy feathers, this baby cardinal will be dependent on his parents for quite a while yet.

He could have picked up that seed himself, but he’s too young, too inexperienced or too unwilling to fend for himself.  Northern Cardinals are year round residents in Wisconsin.

A young Yellow-rumped Warbler caught a fly. It’s a tiny meal and it takes a lot of flies like this to satisfy even a small bird, but there are a lot of flies in the forest. Flies provide protein for birds.  A migration can be long and hard.  Protein is essential for birds and insects are the best source of protein for them.

A young male Common Yellowthroat preens and straightens his feathers. Preening is a daily exercise.

Yellowthroats are warblers that spend their winters in Central and South America. That is a long trip for this small warbler; so preening is important for warmth and fending off parasites.
You can tell he is a male by the dark patch starting to develop below his eye.

Common Yellowthroats are passing through Wisconsin right now. 

(Click any picture to enlarge)

The Monarch Butterflies are passing through, too.  Monarchs are so numerous they’re hard to miss. Monarch butterflies and wooly caterpillars are seasonal signs of the change.

The monarchs are on the way south, maybe all the way to Mexico.

Black-and-White Warblers don’t change much with the seasons.  They’re always formally attired in black and white. This is either a female or an immature male. Look for this bird hopping up or down a tree trunk.  Insects hide in the bark crevices, so that’s where they look for them.

If you miss the Black-and-White Warbler now, Florida may be your only chance to see another this year.

Fall is a special time in Wisconsin. The bird life changes almost daily. If you enjoy it, don’t miss it. It will be something to savor come January.