Confusing Fall Warblers
It’s that time of year again when even the most experienced birder might be puzzled by the fall plumage of warblers. For new birders, fall warblers can be a real challenge as not only are they much quieter (so it’s often difficult to make the ID with sound), but their molt takes them into more subdued colors. During migration, some birds are still in the process of molting so you can see anything from a near fully (although worn looking) spring look, a patchwork mid-molt pattern or a fully drabbed-out fall/winter pattern.
Fortunately there are free tools to help with these ID’s. One of the best is from Princeton University Press, publishers of Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle’s “The Warbler Guide”. Their free downloadable pdf of fall warbler plumage is a handy sheet to take with you birding as a reference to the more tricky plumages you might see. Pack one in your backpack and may very find your ID confidence and bird count are improved this fall!
Posts Tagged ‘warblers’
Feeding Tips to Attract Birds to Your Backyard
If you want your backyard to attract as many birds
as possible, you are going to need to provide a variety of different food sources, fresh water and a safe spot to feed and live. It may sound like a tall order, but actually, it’s easier than you think. Let’s take a look at some simple ways to provide food for a variety of different birds.
Food sources can take many forms, and the most successful backyards involve a two-pronged approach of feeders and native plants. Overall, what food you make available will determine which birds will find your backyard appealing, so you want to provide variety in your feeders as well as plants and trees that naturally have the food birds want.
This year, try a few different kinds of feeders, such as sunflower, nyger, suet, mealworms or fruit. Your main feeders should always contain seed, suet and depending on where you live, fruit. Only use mealworms later in the season very sparingly as a treat only – and they are only for specific birds like Bluebirds. To get a sense of which birds eat what food, check out our info from our Birding Resources page.
If you want to attract migrating birds that are either needing to rest and feed on their journey, or migrating songbirds that might stop and nest for the summer like Yellow warblers, then you have to think out of the feeder box. These birds eat insects, and the best way to make your yard a welcome stopover and possible nesting site is to plant native plants that attract the insects these birds eat. Native pine trees and other conifers are chock full of the right bugs, but there are many plants, shrubs, flowers and trees that are exactly right for your area and also attract the insects these birds need.
If you really want your backyard to be a haven for a diverse variety of beautiful birds, the foundation of your yard should consist of native plants. Planting late season seeding native flowers and grasses now will ensure a good crop of seeds at the end of the season, some through the winter and in coming years — as native plants are perennials and will continue to provide beauty for you and food for your favorite birds in the future. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has a list of native plants by state, so if you are unsure what plants to buy….this is a great resource!
If you combine native planting with feeders, you have a winning combination with appeal for the most variety of birds. Get started planting and get those feeders ready for the spring rush!
Radar Birding: What’s It All About
Stay on the cutting edge of birding with RADAR data! Meterologists have being using RADAR stations throughout the country to track and predict weather patterns for decades. But recently, birders have been using RADAR technology to track and understand bird movements! Here is a brief guide to getting started on the fascinating tool of RADAR birding to help you get the most out of your birding excursions.
During the spring and fall migration seasons, migrating passerines (songbirds) stopover to feed and rest during the day, then take off at sunset to migrate. Millions of birds take off for these nightly flights at almost the same time. So many are flying up into the atmosphere that radio waves from RADAR stations bounce off the large flocks, creating a distinct signature.
Follow this link to see a looping animation of a NEXRAD RADAR map from May 7th, 2013. At first you will see clouds moving, but wait for a large surge of blue and green moving from east to west across the country — those are birds taking off at sunset! Note the very large concentration along the Gulf Coast-there’s a reason High Island and other Gulf Coast birding sites are so famous for their spring migration.
Of course, we can’t tell which species exactly are migrating, or exactly which habitat patches they are using, but we can get a really good general idea of the intensity of migration through observing RADAR maps. You can use RADAR data to help with your own birding. Knowing a bit about what time of year certain birds migrate will help. For example, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Pine Warblers tend to be early season migrants, while Wood Thrushes tend to come through a little bit later. If you combine RADAR data with historical data on the timing of migration for certain bird species, you can predict pretty well what you might see on a morning of birding.
There are a few websites dedicated to birding with RADAR data. Woodcreeper.com is a blog that summarizes RADAR data for the Upper Midwest states. The United States Geological Survey also provides a good primer on RADAR birding (or “aerofauna”, as they call it), with links to many other useful websites here.
Scientists continue to study RADAR data and are using computers to automate detection of bird flocks. They are comparing weather data, landscape data and data from other sources to learn more about how birds migrate. Use RADAR data to aid in your own birding excursions, and let us know about what you are finding out!
My husband and I are coffee drinkers. In fact, recently I made the mistake of taking him along to help get a replacement when our old cappuccino machine died. We wound up with a machine so complicated I needed an advanced degree to make it work. But I digress. The reason for my writing about coffee at all is that for many years I have been looking to find coffee which is bird friendly, which means it is grown in the shade. Why is growing coffee in the shade important you might ask? Much of the coffee we buy is grown in neo-tropical countries where birds we see in the spring and summer spend their winters. So when that yellow warbler leaves your backyard and heads to Central America, he starts his journey with the full intention of having a place to stay and food to eat when he arrives in his winter home. Since it is cheaper and easier to grow coffee by clear cutting the land of all trees and shrubs, this kind of agriculture is a very bad thing for the birds which migrate to these areas as well as the other wildlife which live there. Exhausted after a grueling trip south, battling hurricanes and all kinds of challenges, increasingly more often, migratory songbirds are reaching their traditional overwintering grounds and finding they have been clear cut or destroyed. Coffee is naturally a shade loving plant, but since it is cheaper to clear cut the growing area and then just treat the coffee plants with chemicals to keep them going, this has become the new norm for larger agricultural enterprises. So, if we want to help migratory birds (and other animals, too) keep their populations up by retaining their habitat intact and chemical free, buying shade grown coffee which is grown on plantations which retain the trees and undergrowth necessary for songbirds is an easy and practical solution.
Or so I thought. Coffee has many descriptive terms. It can be fair trade (which guarantees poor farmers in co-operatives a fair price for their coffee), organic (which refers to the use or non-use of chemicals), and (among other descriptive terms) shade grown. What I have come to discover is that shade grown can mean many things and these various terms are often mutually exclusive. So that if it is fair trade and/or organic, it may not be shade grown. And there is shade grown and then there is bird friendly shade grown. Until recently, even finding shade grown coffee was a challenge. You had to trust that the distributor really did buy coffee grown in the shade, if the shop even had any idea what you were talking about. I thought I had found a great shade grown coffee, and have been using it for a very long time, only to discover that it most probably is shade grown but not bird friendly.
I learned all this from Scott Weidensaul who really opened my eyes to what to look for. He told me that normal shade grown means they did not clear cut the trees. However, they do clear the undergrowth and so it causes a mono-culture of trees and coffee bushes. This is only mildly better than coffee grown in clear cut areas. Bird friendly coffee growers not only retain the tree canopy, they also keep the undergrowth which the birds need for food and shelter. Smithsonian has the only 100% organic bird-friendly coffee certification and their certifications are given only to growers who comply with a fairly rigid list of standards. The coffee is better tasting, too as it has no chemicals and ripens more slowly. You can buy Smithsonian bird friendly certified coffee at Birds And Beans which was founded by a group of concerned naturalists and birders including Kenn Kauffman. So, spread the word that buying bird friendly certified coffee is an easy way to help migrating birds as well as wildlife. Whenever biodiversity can be left intact, we all benefit from it.
So, now in my new complicated coffee machine, I have the real deal being brewed. Real bird friendly shade grown Smithsonian certified coffee. It makes a better cup of coffee if for no other reason than it really is an easy change to make in my routine and has such a wide-ranging benefit to so many birds and animals. Now that’s the best way to start the day!
Oh, and in case you thought that it was just the warblers who are affected by loss of habitat through coffee growing, think again. Here is a list of some of the species who return to or migrate through shade grown coffee plantations and who benefit from us taking a moment to think before we buy coffee:
Traill’s (Willow and Alder) Flycatcher
Black-throated Green Warbler
Bird species list provided by Dr. Oliver Komar, SalvaNATURA.