September is one of my favorite months. Football begins. I get a year older. The number of variety of fall migrants hit their peak. Here in Florida, migration occurs throughout the year. “Fall” may begin as early as May when the first Purple Martins, perhaps early or failed breeders, start heading south. July 4th is not just Independence Day. Among birders, it is known as the traditional start of shorebird migration. Many shorebirds spend a brief but bountiful summer on the tundra. Some populations winter as far south as the southern tip of South America, so they must be on the move as soon as possible. Once reproduction has been achieved, the adults leave. Youngsters are on their way a little later. The earliest travelers may even arrive in the southern states before July. Other migrants have a more temperate nature. Waterfowl, loons, robins, sparrows, and goldfinches arrive later, mostly November and December. Cedar waxwings are the tardiest of all. Reluctant to move while food is available, the bulk of their numbers may not arrive until February. At the same time, waterfowl start to push north, anticipating the ice melt. Local wintering populations of Northern Parula, are augmented by oft-singing new arrivals. The tide of migration ebbs northward.
September sets in the middle of fall migration, capturing a little of everything. In Florida, there are more birds around than any other time of the year. Among the southbound migrants are many new travelers, most only a few months old. Resident bird populations swell as parents encourage their youngsters to find a place of their own.
Songbird migration peaks in late September and early October. For many species, migration is a nocturnal affair, often riding favorable winds that follow cold fronts. Flying in darkness helps avoid predators, but it has its difficulties. Without the benefit of sight, flocks keep together by using flight calls. Find a quiet place on a good flight night and you may hear dozens or even hundreds of “zeets”, “chips”, and buzzes overhead. With some practice, and the right resources, you might be able to identify who’s who. To learn more, check out my new Flight Calls resources page. Don’t be discouraged, even the experts can’t recognize them all!
Shortly after dawn, migrants descend to rest and eat. You can find them in local parks, your back yard, or anywhere there is sufficient food, shelter, and water. For tips on where to look, check for local hotspots on eBird. Check with clubs like the Audubon Society which often lead local birding trips. Better yet, ask me. I can tell you the best places near you, if you are from Florida! Better still, book a trip with me, and I’ll show you in person and give you tips on where, when, and how to find migrants.
I hope you enjoy September as much as I do and I hope to see you out there.