Fall magnolia warbler

Fall magnolia warbler

Thanks to an invitation from a friend – Blair Ogburn, senior naturalist at Balsam Mountain Trust, I was able to spend a few hours last Saturday (9/12) morning looking for fall migrants at Balsam Mountain Preserve.


Great friends, great birding, add a twist of nostalgia and you have the perfect birding cocktail. When Balsam Mountain Preserve and Balsam Mountain Trust first came into being, I was fortunate enough to be contracted to do bird surveys for the property. I established breeding bird points and conducted breeding bird surveys plus spring and fall migrant surveys from 2001 to 2007.


Things have changed considerably at BMP since those days and I would likely be quite lost without Blair to navigate. We decided, that morning, to hit some of the spots that had produced birds in the past.


We stopped along Sugar Loaf Road where there is a brushy open area adjacent to the forested preserve creating a great “edge” setting.


This spot is also near the home of Ron Lance, botanist, author and naturalist at North American Land Trust’s Big Ridge Preserve near Glenville. Ron came up and joined us and we got to chat while watching the area come alive with birds.


There was a large hawthorn and a large dogwood in the field, both loaded with fruit and busy with birds. Ron also pointed out that there were some red mulberry trees in the field and that they were known to attract a lot of insects. That may have had something to do with the loads of warblers and other insectivores flitting about.


One of the first warblers we got really good looks at was a magnolia. Although it wasn’t in breeding plumage it was quite striking with bright yellow breast and dark black streaking. The only other warbler species of the 11 we saw that morning that doesn’t nest in the area was Tennessee, and we saw quite a few of them.


Migration sometimes puts birds in odd settings and it was a bit unusual to see worm-eating warblers perched on a utility wire. We also saw a Swainson’s thrush on the wire. There were cedar waxwings, blue jays, sparrows and others munching berries while the insectivores included blue-headed and red-eyed vireo, chestnut-sided warbler, black-throated green warbler, black-and-white warbler, American redstart, blackburnian plus the others mentioned above. I think it safe to say that of the 40 species we found that morning 80 percent were represented at that one stop. Fallouts like that are what birding during migration is all about. That is not to say we didn’t have good finds in other areas. We got great looks at the often secretive ovenbird at two different locations.


As the morning was quickly playing out due to other commitments we checked the list – 38 species. Just something about birders, but it’s a lot easier to stop at 40 than at 38. We didn’t have a single raptor so we decided to make a quick stop where we could see some sky. We pulled over at the edge of the golf course near the nature center. As I glassed the sky, a chimney swift streaked through my field of vision.


“Where,” asked Blair?


“Right in front of that white cloud – near where that turkey vulture is,” I said.