So while I’m headed southward, I don’t have the advantage of tireless wings. Or any wings for that matter.
Rather I’m talking about the tiny songbirds flying ever-southward, primarily under cover of darkness to evade daytime predators like hawks and falcons. They, along with many other kinds of birds, are carrying out the instinctual urge to migrate with the seasons, traveling to wherever the food is most abundant. As the cold weather breathes crisp hints of fall and the late summer sunshine wanes, the hatchlings of this year are finally grown, fledged and ready to fly south, following the biannual ritual along with the rest of their kind.
The fall harvest along the many pit stops along the way will hopefully provide sufficient resources necessary for the countless birds along their journey, but many birds die along the way nonetheless. Not only do migrating birds have predators to fear, but also concern about where to rest and refuel. Migratory shorebirds and seabirds rely on beaches and coastline boasting plentiful aquatic invertebrates and small fish and the warblers and songbirds, also known as perching birds or passerines, follow the insects and worms that can be found among the leaves and branches of trees. As human development consistently burgeons ever forth, areas for this bi-annual river of bird species looking for fuel become fragmented and overrun with predators. Tired birds resting on beaches constantly have to upend themselves upon every approach of human, pet or predator. The journey is hard enough as it is, but many variables come in to play that also create significant challenges for these relentless little creatures. And a lot of the time, those are human-related variables.
Resting Royal Terns
But there are ways we can address this. Sometimes, rather than the excitement of running across the beach to flush a flock of gulls and terns could rather be turned into an interesting learning experience for a small child. Where did these birds come from? Where are they headed? Maybe we should walk a few extra steps to skirt around them rather than trundle straight through a group of migratory seabirds that are just trying to recharge for the next stretch of travel.
Anyways, just a thought. I can guarantee that I was probably right there, little stacebird, running ahead of the family in my excitement at setting foot in the powdery sand on Siesta Key, a cloud of gulls rising in front of me as I make a beeline for the water. Anytime I get preachy, just remember it’s to myself as well. We all try to help this big, beautiful, life-filled world our own ways and that’s what counts.
So now as I find myself in the stomping grounds of my youth, here in Maryland, I’m enjoying every chance I can to soak in the hints of fall that are licking at the leaves, tinging them in yellow, orange and red. While mom and I were in Maine, there were shocks of color, an entire maple that may have decided to get ahead of the curve among its still-green brethren. And just like up there, there is a flurry of activity among the leaves here as the birds find the remaining bits food before carrying on southward.
While I was in Puerto Rico, working on a project studying Smooth-billed Anis, I’d arrived freshly from a field season studying warblers in the Bay of Fundy in New
Black-throated Green Warbler, Bay of Fundy
Brunswick. The very same species of migratory warblers I’d spent the summer netting, banding and monitoring throughout the nesting season were suddenly present in Puerto Rico where I’d just arrived for the winter to work on the project. Bird-jobs happen where the birds are and, in effect, I was following the birds. I remember seeing a Black-throated Green Warbler, a species I’d grown quite fond of up in Canada, for the first time in Puerto Rico and just smiling because I knew this jaunty little warbler had just travelled a long ways to get there and was going to spend the winter feeding on the abundant insect life offered by those tropical climes before heading back north to breed the following spring.
What is especially neat about the work we were doing in Canada was “resighting” bands, meaning, using our binoculars, we’d see if a bird above us in a tree was banded. In noting the color combination of four colored bands on the legs of the a previously banded bird, we could even determine if very same individual who travels to Central and South America during the winter will actually return to the very same territory, down to the tree, that they’d previously designated as *theirs* in prior years. They do! So, while I did check for bands on the black-throated greens I saw in Puerto Rico, the odds weren’t in my favor that I’d come across a bird I’d recognize..seeing as how that would mean out of the hundreds of millions of migrating songbirds, we’d have to find each other just a mere two-thousand miles later. Not likely, but it sure gave me some perspective!
So while I stop to rest my tired wings, I’m getting prepared for a few more hops before the final flight south to Costa Rica. I’ll have a chance to see who’s hanging out on the beach once I get back down to Florida for a bit, and, in addition to hanging to with my amazing grandmother before I leave, I’ll get in on some Audubon walks to get a good look at the migrants passing through while I’m there. So stay tuned!
Thanks for reading, all and don’t forget to wave hi to the migrants as they trickle past. And keep your eyes ever skyward..