What to watch for in September: Fall Migration in Full Swing
Here’s the Central Texas bird forecast for the month, courtesy of Travis Audubon. Learn more about Central Texas birds and bird-related events for all ages at travisaudubon.org or by calling 512-300-BIRD. Follow us at www.facebook.com/travisaudubon.
Early Ducks on the Wing
Here in Austin, Blue-winged Teal are one of the first ducks to migrate south in the fall, beginning to arrive in August and appearing in large numbers by September. Then the number tapers off through early November, with few being seen during December and January. They will head north through Austin again in the spring. Blue-winged Teal are unusual ducks in that most of their substantial population winters in Central and South America rather than in the southern U.S. As such, they are long distance-migrants. There is a record of one bird that was banded in Alberta, Canada recovered in Venezuela one month later – a distance of 3800 miles. It is thought that this duck species flies across the Gulf, rather than around it, judging from the many sight records around oil platforms and birds resting on the Gulf. Males usually migrate before females and juveniles.
Blue-winged Teal are small ducks, and while they do have a striking blue patch on the leading edge of their upper wings, not every duck with blue in that spot is this species – the Northern Shoveler and Cinnamon Teal share similar blue too. Male ducks in the fall can be confusing, since they are in what’s called basic or non-breeding plumage, and the females are equally drab. For now, just enjoy them as dabbling ducks, foraging without diving, and wait for the cooler fall weather when the Blue-winged Teal male will sport a white crescent on its face and a large white hip patch.
What Are Some of the Most Visible Austin Area Migrants in September?
Aerial Chimney Swifts are staging right now, and going to communal roosts in town. Start watching incinerator chimneys around sunset for a swirl of chittering cigar-shaped dark birds diving in to spend the night. Pretty soon these insectivores will be leaving for their winter haunts in the Amazon basin of Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and Brazil.
If you walk Lady Bird Lake or the ponds at Mueller stay alert for the croak of the Green Heron. There are many of these at area creeks, ponds and along the Colorado River. Most of them are heading south by the end of September, to winter in Central and very northern South America. These very well camouflaged small stocky herons have richly rufous necks as adults, but streaked necks when they are young birds. If you get lucky you might see one nab a small fish or dragonfly.
A couple of noticeable songbirds on the move in September are Baltimore Orioles, on the lookout for berries, and widespread aptly named Yellow Warblers.
Lights Out for Birds, Now Through November 15
It’s hard to believe that it’s already time for birds to be migrating south again for the winter. One way to help nocturnal migrants is to turn non-essential lights off between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., so they can use the moon and stars to navigate safely to their wintering grounds. It’s estimated that nearly two billion birds migrate through Texas in the fall, so saving birds here impacts populations across the continent. Learn more at Lights Out, Austin!
If you like the idea of tuning into the ebb and flow of bird movements locally and across the continental U.S., tune into BirdCast. According to the website, “Bird migration forecast maps show predicted nocturnal migration 3 hours after local sunset and are updated every 6 hours. Colorado State University and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology currently produce these forecasts.” There’s something magical, like a super power, about seeing a natural process like migration playing out on a large scale.
Upcoming Travis Audubon Events Check the Travis Audubon events calendar for details.
Bird Walks: Get outdoors with a knowledgeable leader and learn more about our beautiful Austin-area birds. The bird walks are free, fill quickly, and most require registration. Field trips may be cancelled depending on Austin’s COVID status.
Class — Introduction to Raptor Identification If you struggle to identify hawks, falcons and other birds of prey, this virtual fee-based class will help. It’s best for bird watchers with some experience. September 17 from 6 – 8 p.m. and September 18 from 9 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Travis Audubon Monthly Meeting — Join us via Zoom on September 16 at 7:00 p.m. to hear biologist Heidi Trudell speak on “Helping Birds Survive a Human World.” You will need to contact email@example.com at least two days in advance to get the meeting credentials.
Compiled by Jane Tillman, Travis Audubon Volunteer