Bird list & other natural events, September 2011

It’s dry; our on-farm rainfall totals for the past three months are July (2.03″), August (1.76″), September (2.17″). Most of that came in little spurts here and there, never enough to really soak in and reset the water clock. The ground is rock-hard, dust rises from our field roads, pastures don’t regrow after goats have browsed them, trees, plants, and crops all wilt. We’re watering like crazy trying to keep things alive, especially young seedlings and transplants; greens don’t regrow as fast which cuts into our sellable yields. We had our first light frost September 14, and several more between then and early October, when we recieved two killing frosts in the low areas of the field.

Coyotes have been very active the past few weeks; we hear our local pack regularly in the evening and overnight hours. They tend to travel along the Silver Fork valley, just north of us, but definitely move up and down our side valley as well. Multiple times we’ve seen coyotes along our forest edges, including a pair in the orchard just a few days ago, and find their scat on our roads now and then. Like hawks, I enjoy their presence and hope they’ll leave our animals alone; they’re a very neat animal to see and are an important part of the food chain here. Others in the area are reporting lots of coyote activity too, and some attacks on livestock, though I remain more concerned about the various packs of domestic dogs allowed to roam freely in our area. Good fencing goes a long way toward hopefully allowing nature and domestic animals to coexist.

September marked the opening of fall bird migrations, as you’ll see from the 26 new species observed on the farm compared to August. Many of these were only seen a few times as they passed through, but did find something they liked about our ecosystem long enough to pause and be noticed. Hawks have been very active this fall, including a beautiful but annoying Cooper’s Hawk which will….not….leave…., just keeps hanging around benefiting from the plush populations of warblers passing through but forcing us to confine the chickens far longer than we’ve ever had to before.

I’ve been carrying binoculars most mornings as I go out to milk and do animal chores, as there are often thick mixed flocks of birds flitting around the diverse habitat of our main field/pasture, highlighted in the clear light of morning sun. Fall migrants don’t sing or call as much as spring migrants, and are generally drabber in color and patterning, so it takes more work and observation to identify and distinguish them. It’s an enjoyable challenge most of the time, and really helps us understand our surroundings more thoroughly.

Publishing a month-long list certainly obscures the day-to-day and week-to-week changes in migrant behavior. Some birds, like the Broad-winged Hawk, are long gone by the end of September. Others, like the White-Throated Sparrow, showed up October 1 and just missed being included (they could easily have been here one day earlier and just went unnoticed). But the lists still give a sense of the diversity we observe and interact with here.

NEW IN SEPTEMBER (26 species, some observed earlier this year but not in August)

Canada Goose
Red-Tailed Hawk
Black and White Warbler
Red-eyed Vireo
Black-throated Green Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Red-headed Woodpecker
Grey Catbird
Brown Thrasher
Northern Flicker
American Redstart
Least Flycatcher (likely, unconfirmed)
Cooper’s Hawk
Red-eyed Vireo
Cedar Waxwing
Magnolia Warbler
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Common Nighthawk
Tennessee Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Lark Sparrow
Tree Swallow
Canada Warbler (new species for the farm)
Killdeer

PRESENT IN SEPTEMBER (31 species)
Turkey Vulture
Red-shouldered Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Mourning Dove (inc. 2 recent fledglings observed by the barn at the end of the month)
Yellow-Billed Cuckoo
Barred Owl
Whip-poor-will
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Wood-Peewee
Eastern Phoebe
Great Crested Flycatcher
White-eyed Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tufted Titmouse
Black-cappeed Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
American Robin
Northern Parula
Summer Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Eastern Towhee
American Goldfinch

MISSING/UNOBSERVED SINCE AUGUST (8 species)
Fish crow
Eastern Kingbird
Grackle
Golden-winged Warbler
Great Blue Heron
Wood Thrush
Louisiana Waterthrush
Field Sparrow

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