First of all, thank you all for making this year’s Fall native plant sale a huge success. Almost 150 plants, half a dozen new OVLC members and a boatload of fun meeting everyone. Looking forward to the spring sale already.
Fall is here and as the mercury starts to edge down entire populations of birds are making the trek to warmer climes. Not that I would know personally, as I am now in my 8th week waiting for my new binoculars… But trust me, changes are afoot in the avian universe.
In Ventura County we are often a way station, a roadside diner on the way from the encroaching cold of the Sierras to the balmy hills of Mexico. Some birds are just passing through for a brief few weeks or even days, while some will sojourn with us until spring. Trees sporting fall berries such as the Chinese pistachios on the OMP are a great place to see some of these hungry migrants. Don’t blink, most of these will be gone by November.
Western Tanagers have the farthest northern breeding grounds of any in its tropical family, as far as 60 degrees north, that’s cold-ass Canada. The red in his face is from rhodoxanthin, a chemical not produced by the birds, rather from insects that they eat. Most are heading to Central America for the winter.
Black-headed Grosbeaks grace my feeder with their presence exactly once per year, usually in spring. They winter in Central Mexico where they are one of the few predators of the monarch butterfly. Apparently they are able to filter the toxins that make monarchs unpalatable to most other insect eaters.
I saw my first Warbling Vireo just the other week at the Chinese pistachio trees. They summer almost throughout North America and spend winters in Central America. You are unlikely to hear them warble or make any other noises this time of year unfortunately.
Common throughout the west, many Western Kingbirds will actually winter in Florida, just like my parents! The rest will head for Central America where they have no problem harassing interlopers 4 times their size.
On the other hand Cassin’s Kingbirds have a very limited range, and will for the most part stick around for the winter. They sport much darker gray plumage than their cousins, and have the most bad-ass scientific name, Tyrannus vociferans.
Townsend’s Warblers have just enjoyed 6 months in the Pacific northwest and Alaska. They are now headed to Central America, though a few strays may stick around the coast. They love feeding on insects which are feeding on berries, who doesn’t love sticky sweet bugs?
Yellow Warblers are common through all of North America. Snacking on wasps, beetles, midges and caterpillars on their way to Central and South America, Yellow Warblers have been known to get caught in orb-weaver spider’s nests, poor lil guys.
In my yard October means White-crowned sparrow time. After a summer in Canada they are a familiar sight in most suburban areas in the US through the winter. Some of our locals trekked 2600 miles from Alaska, and individual species have been reported to have traveled 300 miles in a single night.
Lark Sparrows on the other hand will sometimes spend the year in the area. Unlike most songbirds Lark Sparrows walk, rather than hop on the ground. During courtship and just before consummation the male will often give the female a twig, why didn’t I try that in college?
Hermit Thrushes are arriving from their Northern summer abodes to scratch through our forest floors looking for juicy insects. The men usually hunt while the gals usually tend to the lil ones. Here in the west they usually nest in trees, while east of the Rockies nests are usually on the ground.
Thanks for joining me on our autumnal avian adventure, happy hunting (well not literally.)