Birdwatching tip: September is not the best month to start birding! Don’t be alarmed if the following pictures aren’t the most striking views of warblers, that’s the idea of this post 🙂
Why do I say this about September? Well, the autumn migration is underway, and that means you’ll probably see a decent amount of wood warblers. So far so good.
There are two problems with autumn migration. The first is that unlike the spring, the leaves are on the trees in September the whole month. In spring, the leaves are just coming out and so you get a period early in spring migration where it’s easier to see the birds. But in autumn, they can be obscured behind a full complement of leaves.
The second problem with autumn migration is that it takes place after the summer’s young have been raised. There are lots of immature birds making their first migration this month. The big problem with immature birds is that they frequently look quite different than their adult parents. They are often duller-colored and are without the distinctive patterns that their parents show- this is because they haven’t reached maturity where attracting a mate is important.
So, it is harder to see warblers in September, and when you do see them, it is often harder to identify them. That’s a tough situation for a beginning birder.
I find it helpful to take pictures and study them later. Many a time I will identify a bird from the picture I took, when at the time I wasn’t quite sure what it was.
There are certain features to look for on birds, especially immature warblers. The pattern and coloration on the underside of the tail is helpful.
Often there are warblers that you just have to say, ‘I’m not certain what it is.’ That’s OK- don’t let it drive you crazy 🙂
Often I’ll see a duller-looking warbler with a bit of yellow on the breast and a slightly darker head and think ‘Nashville Warbler!’ Nashvilles are common birds and it’s almost a joke when I say ‘yep a Nashville’ because unless you get a good look, it can be hard to tell. The following picture is most likely a Nashville, by the way.
Some immature warblers look so similar that birders recognize this in a pseudo-identification, such as a ‘Baypoll‘. This is a combination of a Bay-Breasted and a Blackpoll Warbler, the immatures of which look very much alike.
Another tough identification issue is demonstrated by the picture above- when you just see the belly of an immature bird. This view is common but hard to ID, though you can narrow it down by looking at the tail color and pattern.
It’s not uncommon for me to mark down ‘warbler species’ on a checklist when I cannot identify an immature warbler. It’s not the end of the world, and as more and more autumn migrations go by, you find yourself getting better and better at identifying them. But it takes time and patience.
So, even though I love the autumn weather, my favorite birding season is spring, as in spring migration (April & May). Then, the warblers and other birds have their best feathers on display for mating purposes. This makes it a lot easier to identify them.