September is autumn migration month for Wood Warblers. Those brightly-colored insect-eaters of the forests are heading back to Central and South America to escape the cold season, to return to raise new families next spring. Here are some photographs I took of these birds this past month. Most are far less colorful than they were in the spring, when they were in their showiest feathers. Many of these birds are immatures that were born here over the summer, making their first long migration south.
Compare these birds to last May’s Warbler crop. They look quite different, don’t they? Autumn is not the best season to start being a birder, things can be hard to figure out then🙂
Black-Throated Green Warbler
Common Yellowthroat (male)
Common Yellowthroat (female)
American Redstart (female)
Black & White Warbler
Northern Parula Warbler (immature)
Northern Parula Warbler (adult)
Late summer brings about another change in the wildflowers to be seen here in Ohio. Early autumn is the last hurrah of plants before the cold season sets in.
August ushers in a variety of colorful plants.
Various sunflowers (generally lumped under their genus name Helianthus) grace wood edges
Coneflowers, such as this Green-Headed Coneflower, are also notable
Wingstem is prominent along paths in woods and in shaded clearings
Evening Primrose makes its seasonal appearance in waste spaces
Great Lobelia can be seen in shaded areas
Thistles stand out with their colorful flower heads surrounded by spines
Ironweed, tall and purple, is a stand-out plant
Lady’s Thumb, also known as Knotweed, is a prominent ‘weed’
Ragweed- the source of many allergies
As the year advances into early autumn, September brings with it other bursts of color to add to the mix.
Snakeroot can be found along paths in the woods and wood edges
Thoroughwort looks somewhat like a white version of Ironweed
Jerusalem Artichoke is a late sunflower, very tall and noticeable in prairie areas and brushy wood borders
Meanwhile, in the woods, some hidden wildflowers bloom- many understated, although not all are that way.
Wood Nettle has barely-noticeable green blooms along its stems
Jumpseed has curious small white blooms along its stems- other types of plants like this are Lopseed and Enchanter’s Nightshade
Jewelweed, with its orange and yellow exotic blooms, bring the most color to woodlands this season
Leafcup has very understated pale yellow blossoms nearly hidden by large ragged leaves
Joepyeweed can be found both in the woods and near its edges, attracting many birds
Finally, September sees the massive presence of two widespread types of wildflowers that almost define autumn.
Goldenrod is very abundant in fields- see more here
Asters are also abundant- much more can be seen here
Early autumn’s wildflowers linger into October and then dwindle as winter’s shorter days and colder temperatures signal the end of another growing year. We’ll be happy to see wildflowers return once more next spring.
When I was growing up in a rural county here in Ohio, some mornings I would hear the loud whistling call from miles away- ‘bob-white!’ Walking in an abandoned farm field, I once flushed a covey of several birds who burst out of the tall grass at my feet.
This was a gamebird common in Ohio farmland back in the 70s. But then a couple of very bad winters hit, virtually wiping out this bird. Incidentally, it did the same thing to Carolina Wrens, who wintered over in moderate winters.
Four years ago, I was driving through the farming backroads of the county I grew up in, and heard one of these birds calling. I don’t know if it was a wild bird or a pet gamebird.
I’m talking about the Northern Bobwhite, the most common quail in eastern North America. Fortunately, there’s been efforts to reintroduce this species back into the state, similar to how Wild Turkeys- once nearly hunted to extinction in this area- are making a big comeback.
So when I heard that a couple of Bobwhites had been seen in Sharon Woods Metro Park in Columbus last month, I went looking for them.
Sharon Woods has plenty of woods and fields with walking paths all over the park. The birds had been seen and heard in a particular area along the connector trail.
Several other birders were there to see them. I spotted one of the birds on a grass path and called everyone over.
Here is the bird, walking on the grass not very far away from us.
Northern Bobwhites are year-round residents in open habitats of southeastern North America. They live in agricultural fields, grasslands, open pine or pine-hardwood forests, and grass-brush rangelands as far north as Massachusetts and southern Ontario, and as far west as southeastern Wyoming and eastern New Mexico. They seem to avoid mature woodlands, inhabiting instead the early stages of regrowth after a fire, farming, logging, or other disturbance. They are most numerous in patchwork areas of fields, forests, and croplands; in coastal Texas rangelands; and in southern pine forests that are intensively managed for bobwhite hunting. During snowfalls in the northern part of their range, bobwhites depend on woody cover to prevent snow from reaching the ground and blocking their foraging habitat.
Bobwhites eat mostly seeds and leaves, supplemented with varying amounts of insects during the breeding season. Chicks are fed mostly insects until they are 6–8 weeks old. Arthropods can make up 5 percent of the male’s diet and 20 percent of the female’s diet during the breeding season. Bobwhites forage as a group, scratching and pecking through leaf litter or foraging on low plants. When snow falls they seek out patches of bare ground under brushy areas. Their staple food of seeds comes from agricultural crops, weeds, forest plants, and rangeland vegetation. During fall and winter they eat many legume seeds, ragweed seeds, pine seeds, and acorns. In the spring they eat more leafy green parts of plants, and in the summer their diet includes grass seeds, some fruits, and arthropods—such as bugs, flies, bees, wasps, beetles, and spiders.
Notice this bird’s crest half-raised. It was fairly tame, which has led some birders to speculate if it was an escapee or a reintroduced bird. No bird bands or other marks were noted, however.
Suddenly, another Bobwhite called in the area. Our bird looked quite agitated and flew up into a nearby tree to call back.
Northern Bobwhites are highly social, usually found in groups, or coveys, of 3–20 individuals. They feed in early morning and late afternoon. At night, coveys usually roost on the ground (or occasionally in vegetation) in a close-packed, outward-facing circle with their tails pointing toward the center, probably to conserve heat and stay on the alert. They coexist peacefully for most of the year, but in the breeding season male bobwhites fight to attract mates. Both males and females perform courtship displays. Originally thought to be monogamous, they actually have several breeding strategies: males can raise broods with multiple females; and females can raise broods with multiple males (although males often abandon such broods). Bobwhites sometimes intermingle their eggs with those of Ring-necked Pheasants and free-range domestic chickens. Hawks, owls, raccoons, opossums, skunks, foxes, and snakes prey on adult bobwhites and their young. Adults flutter and drag their wings to distract predators from their chicks.
…In economic terms, the Northern Bobwhite was one of the most important game birds in North America. Population declines from habitat loss now mean that in many places there are no longer enough to hunt. Bobwhite hunting can be sustainable if controlled properly, but currently management varies widely across the continent. The National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative is a consortium of state agencies, conservation organizations, and hunters working to improve the prospects of this species.
What a great thing to see this bird once again! May their numbers increase once more!
The summer season is here, and the wildflowers one sees out along the roads, in the fields, and in the woods show this. By the end of May and the beginning of June, summer plants were taking over from the late spring blooms- one of the botanical inflection points of the year.
Here’s the prominent wildflowers one sees in June and July in Ohio.
Queen Anne’s Lace (Wild Carrot)
I usually see this starting to bloom 2 weeks before its sister plant…
Just saw this starting to bloom at the beginning of July
Also starting to bloom in early July
A few prairie flowers are blooming:
And out in the woods:
Also, you can still see a few plants that were going strong in the spring, like Oxeye Daisy, Yarrow and Fleabane. The next important plant inflection point will happen in late July / Early August…that’s not as far away as you would think!
May 2016 was a good month for me photography-wise. When it comes to taking photos of Warblers, luck largely rules- you can have a bunch of terrible or missed pictures, or you can have a handful of decent shots. I got a higher-than-normal amount of decent shots this year.
Wood Warblers are neotropical migrants, birds that breed in the US or Canada and winter in Central or South America. They tend to be colorful, which makes them quite popular with birders and photographers- especially in the spring, when the males are in their brightest breeding plumage. But as any birder can tell you, Warblers can be difficult to see or photograph. They move frequently and spend much of their time in the leafed-out canopies of trees, searching for insects. I’ve gone whole migration seasons without getting a good shot of them before.
Not last month though- I was out every decent-weather morning in various parks, and got some decent shots. Here they are, I hope you enjoy them.
These hardy birds will eat poison ivy berries- most Warblers are insect-eaters exclusively. They occasionally winter over in Ohio, surviving on such berries.
One of the most common breeding Warblers in Ohio- they love scrubby fields and shrubs near water. Their song is the classic ‘sweet, sweet, sweeter than sweet’
Perhaps the most common breeding Warbler in Ohio, they love scrubby fields and shrubs. They scold me all the time when I walk through their territory (like this little guy did) during nesting time.
Northern Parula Warbler
Beautiful small Warblers with a distinctive whooshing-type song.
American Redstart (first year male)
A common warbler. Mature adult males are black and orange, the females are olive green and yellow- almost looking like different species.
Black-Throated Green Warbler
These birds don’t seem to hide as much as other Warbler species. Their ‘zu zee zu zu zee’ song is easy to identify.
Black-Throated Blue Warbler
I often have trouble getting a good look at this species, but this individual cooperated nicely by singing mere feet away from me.
Black And White Warbler
This species is very distinctive, moving around on tree limbs and trunks as if it were a Nuthatch.
I usually get better looks at Nashvilles but for some reason this year they didn’t show themselves to me!
Palms sometimes forage for food on the ground and in tall grass. They often are the last Warblers seen late in autumn migration.
For some reason I’ve always had a hard time getting a decent shot of this species, but this one posed nicely for me for a few seconds- forever in Warbler time.
Magnolias- strikingly beautiful birds- are middle to late season migrants. They often stay hidden in bushes.
Blackpolls aren’t the showiest Warblers, but they often elude my camera. Not this year! Notice how this bird is searching for insects, turning its head to look everywhere. A typical no-nonsense Warbler foraging behavior.
This gorgeous bird peeked out of a shrub and looked directly at me. I saw him by sheer luck.
Bay-Breasteds are another Warbler species that typically avoids me. I was happy to get these shots.
Blackburnians have that brilliant orange-red head and throat. You can glimpse them through the leaves quite easily with that glowing color.
I just realized I didn’t get a decent shot of a Yellow-Throated Warbler this spring. That’s a shame, they often can be seen in tall Sycamore Trees along rivers. I also missed any decent shots of Tennessee Warblers.
I hope next May is as good to me as this one was! I’ll try to get plenty of shots of Wood Warblers as they come back through Ohio heading south for the winter in September during autumn migration. They aren’t as brightly-colored then because mating and nesting season will be over. They are often harder to identify due to this, and because immature younger Warblers tend to look different than adults.