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Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Beauty and Marvel of Bird Migration

                The Birds Enthrall and their Journey Amazes

                                    by John McGonigle

        “Waterfowl and passerines and raptors, oh my.” With apologies to the Wizard’s Dorothy, fall migration is underway and as mysterious and wonderful as anything Oz had to offer.

Fall migration of waterfowl, passerines and diurnal raptors (will be covered today, and each genre has its aficionados.

Holly Merker, of Downingtown, is Chester County Compiler for Pennsylvania Society for Ornithology and a Regional E-Bird editor. Merker graciously offered her assistance, and her knowledge of birds is comprehensive, dependable and welcome.

        “Some waterfowl species will start migrating very soon,” said Merker excitedly, “and some aspects of waterfowl migration can last until April in Chester County”. Most species of waterfowl, though, will not cross our borders until November, she said.

        For waterfowl Merker suggested Marsh Creek Lake in Marsh Creek State Park, Chambers Lake in Hibernia County Park and Struble Lake, off Route 322, owned by Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. “These are the three county spots where I do best, though there are some other spots for waterfowl”, she said” She related that Teal will arrive very soon, and later Ruddy ducks, Ring Neck ducks and Buffle-Head ducks, as well as myriad others.

        With little space it is impossible to go into detail, but some waterfowl, especially Canada geese will be around for much of autumn and winter. Some ducks will linger longer than others to refuel and rest, and still others will stop for food and rest on their way when returning north. The good news is waterfowl lovers have a lot of time to view their favorites. Canada geese can be confusing because different sub-species vary widely in size.    .

        Merker likes looking for waterfowl at Wastewater Treatment Impoundments in winter. When I said, “Yuk”, she said, “I know, I know, but the impoundments are so small it makes it easy to see the ducks well.”
American Wigeon & Gadwall

        Merker said, “We don’t have too much waterfowl on our streams, the streams tend to be too small.” She did, though, say, “Don’t forget to try the Black Rock Sanctuary and trail (ChesCo Parks) along the Schuylkill River near Phoenixville. Also visit Struble Lake, I do well there”.

        The primary reason birds migrate is to obtain food, which is why Merker suggests, “Walk along Riparian corridors, or buffers, such as those found at Hibernia County Park and Struble Trail, managed by the county.” Riparian corridors, or stream-sides, offer food for birds two ways, according to Merker. “There are always more insects along streams or waterways than dry areas, and many passerine species feed heavily on insects. Additionally”, she said, “multiple tree species line waterways, and they drawl numerous insect species”. Some passerines will eat any remaining seeds or fruit from trees.

        “Look for passerines early, since they often migrate in huge flocks at night, in large part to avoid predators,” said Merker. “Passerines feed in the morning and rest and sleep later in the day while waiting for nightfall to resume their journey,” she said. 
Indigo Bunting

        Merker said, “It is critical that passerines, primarily small birds, not only rest, but also replenish their fat supply for their often long migration. They will remain in an area as long as necessary to regain fuel for their body.”

        “Exton County Park is another excellent spot to bird during the migration season,” said Merker, “be sure to look around the pond area. Look for passerines (especially sparrows), wading birds and waterfowl.

        Almost forgetting, Merker said, “Oh, and don’t forget the relatively new Wolf’s Hollow County Park near Atglen.” The 569-acre park has nearly eight miles of hiking trails for birding and is bounded on two sides by Octoraro Creek, a riparian border that should attract birds.

                Major eastern raptor migrations occur between mid-September and mid-November, and it is exciting. Locally, Rose Tree Park (Delco) near Media and Militia Hill at Fort Washington State Park (Montco) offer 10 – 15,000 raptors during the time referenced. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary (Berks County) and Second Mountain Hawkwatch (Lebanon County) are major hawk migration sights along the ridgeline to our north. See for full info and directions on hawkwatch sites.

        I go regularly to numerous sites during the fall migration and find hawk watchers helpful with information and assistance with identifying hawks. Remember, everyone started as a newbie sometime.

        Favored raptors in our region include Bald eagles, Northern Harriers and Red-shouldered hawks. Fairly common in mid-September are Broad-wing hawks, October brings Sharp-shinned hawks and Coopers hawks and November offers Red-tailed hawks. Take your binoculars and have fun. 


Hawk Migration Association of North America’s website has info and identifying features on hawks:

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