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Northland Nature: Migrating warblers on the move

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

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A palm warbler as seen in fall; note the rufous crown. Birds continuously flick their tail. Contributed / Mark Sparky Stensaas
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With a sunrise shortly after 7 a.m. and setting before 7 p.m., early October has more hours of darkness than light. This increases as we go through this autumn month.

The arboreal show continues and though many reds are not as vibrant as they were in September, we still have plenty of yellow foliage. Shorter days will trigger more changes, leading toward a massive drop of these photosynthetic organs in a couple weeks. Now there is color and more.

Often while walking the October woods, I find late-season mushrooms — some quite numerous. Apples, crab apples, hawthorns and highbush cranberry all hold ripe fruits. And since many are brightly colored, they catch the eye of hungry animals.

Wildflowers have lessened in the shorter amount of daylight, but some hardy asters will defy the frosts and linger for a few more weeks. This is especially true with the late-blooming New England asters. Despite its name, they are fairly common here and the tall plant with purple rays is quite impressive on chilly days.

Spider webs are harder to find as are many insects. The ones seen now will either hibernate soon or die in the impending frosts.

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Many of the birds show another response to the cold: They migrate. Living where we do, we are able to witness this movement to the south quite readily each fall, and north in spring. With Hawk Ridge so close, we get plenty of views and news of the southbound raptor flight. Except for owls, especially the small saw-whet owls in October, raptors fly in the daytime.

They are often large and we can witness the antics of eagles, osprey, turkey vultures and harriers along with several kinds of hawks. Buteos (red-tailed and broad-wings), accipiters (sharp-shinned and Cooper’s) and falcons (kestrels and merlins ) all put on quite a show as they work their way to the south. But they are not alone.

MORE FROM LARRY WEBER:

  • Northland Nature: Watching life in a warbler nest Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.
  • Northland Nature: Least flycatchers call, feed in woods Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.
  • Northland Nature: Hermit thrushes return to our forests Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

Each day, I see and hear flocks of Canada geese heading south. Swans, mergansers and ducks as well as other water birds move by, too, but more silently than the geese. They may be joined by sandhill cranes, sometimes also in large groups. And the biggest numbers of birds southing now are the smaller birds.
Songbird migration began about two months ago. Tree swallows set the pace. Later, as August led to September, many vireos, warblers, thrushes and flickers could be seen moving through. Louder and larger than most songbirds are blue jays. It has been hard to not notice their presence as they migrate; thousands pass by.

I find that in early October, two groups of songbirds are the most abundant migrants: sparrows and late warblers. To many, all sparrows look alike — small brown birds. But the patient observer may discern ten kinds during this time of early October. (This may be the best time of year to see a variety of sparrows.)

Warblers have been migrating for weeks, but since this group is so diverse, they are still not through. The two that consistently are late in their movement are the yellow-rumped and palm warblers. Both are numerous and readily appear in our yards and parks.

Yellow-rumps have yellow at several places on their body, but it is the rump patch that stands out. Palm warblers are more brown with a rufous crown.

But I find it is the behavior characteristic that helps identify them. Birds almost continuously flick their tails.

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As common as they are now, the season changes will soon send them on. But more migrants will be visible through the fall.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books.
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