September is a great month to watch for migrating birds in the Bay of Quinte region. Warblers, sparrows, thrushes and sandpipers are moving south this month, with the raptors not far behind.
With the height of the summer heat and the onslaught of biting insects, most of us may have shied away from our favourite forest path, ignoring the birds we so eagerly anticipated in the spring. And now, like a neglected lover, our visiting feathered friends have decided to leave us, silently slipping away south for sunnier skies. But for the bird watcher who wants one last chance to say goodbye for another season, the birds are willing to put on one final show.
One of the most elusive autumn migrants passing through the Bay of Quinte region is the diminutive Nelson’s Sparrow. This cappuccino-coloured sparrow breeds in the far north around James Bay in summer, spending the winter months along the Atlantic seaboard of the southern United States. The new marsh boardwalk at the H.R. Frink Centre is one of the few places to view this species in our area as it migrates south from late September to mid-October. For those keen to catch a glimpse of this wee skulker, waiting for a northwest wind the night before you decide to go out and then getting up early the next morning is your best chance. Although the Nelson’s Sparrow is unlikely to sing at this time of year, it’s song is similar to the sound of a piece of Velcro being ripped. In an effort to photograph these birds, I’ll tip-toe along the boardwalk, camera at the ready, and periodically rip a strip of Velcro. I’ve managed to have a bird or two pop up through the cattails to investigate the noise, posing long enough for a photo . Some recent observation dates in years past typically range from September 24th to October 5th.
The Bay-breasted warbler is another bird species that is only seen on passage in our region during spring and autumn. The breeding males have a black mask on a chocolate brown face when we see them for a few short weeks in the spring, but lose much of their showy colours on their return passage in the fall. The young females can look like a completely different species of warbler. The Bay-breasted warbler is one of those “confusing Fall warblers” which novice birders, and even some experts, have difficulty identifying. The forest at Potter’s Creek Conservation Area west of Belleville is a good place to look for this and other autumn warblers.
If we take the time to lean back and look up at the skies, raptors can sometimes be seen in large swirling flocks, or “Kettles.” The Viewing Tower at the Sagar Conservation Area in the Oak Hills is a nice spot to observe vultures, hawks, falcons and occasionally eagles. The best days are often when a North wind is blowing, typically from mid-September to mid-October. It’s best to bring your binoculars and maybe even a spotting scope.
Of the many raptors we can see, the Turkey Vulture is now the most abundant raptor in our skies. Once considered a rare bird in Ontario prior to 1960, the species breeding range has gradually expanded northward into the province. Perhaps one of the main reasons for these Klingon-esque creatures population increase is the number of vehicles on the roads, resulting in more animal strikes. The Turkey Vulture’s diet consists largely of roadkill, and they act as natures custodians, cleaning up the squirrel pancakes and raccoon waffles leftover from our nocturnal motoring habits.
The autumn migration will be over before we know it, so now is time to get out there. These birds won’t be back until spring, and the month of May is a long way away.
Tom’s Birding Tip of the Month:
If you enjoy watching birds, why not contribute your sightings to eBird.org? eBird is the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project. Go online and get involved.