Thu. Dec 7th, 2023

Today’s post comes from Laura Penner, group leader for the Discovery program at Rondeau Provincial Park.

Thousands of birdwatchers flock to Rondeau each spring to take part in one of nature’s most spectacular events: the annual songbird migration.

Male warblers, in their attempt to attract mates, show off their best plumage with striking patterns and bright colors. Their unique songs fill the air! Beginning birders focus on the bird’s appearance to identify it. For more advanced birders, songs can help identify birds that are not out in the open putting on a show.

But for those who are ready to take their warbler identification skills to the next level, there’s the fall migration!

After a summer season on their breeding grounds, most warblers and songbirds return south to their wintering grounds, taking them back through southern Ontario and places like Rondeau Provincial Park.

There are some new challenges that come with birding during fall migration:

1. The distraction of beautiful fall foliage

When the birds first pass by in the spring, they do so just as the leaves on the trees open, giving birders an unobstructed view.

path lined with colorful autumn treesPhoto: Kelsey Rowe

Now, the forest is full of the oranges, reds, and yellows of fall, making it a little more difficult to get a good view.

2. Everything you thought you knew about warblers has changed!

Once the mating season has passed, warblers no longer need flashy colors. They become more drab versions of their spring selves.

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Take a look at these two shots of Yellow-rumped Warbler. The photo on the left was taken in the spring, while the photo on the right was taken during the fall.

warblersPhoto (left): Ric McArthur
Photo (right): Allen Woodliffe

Or how about the seasonal difference between these two Palm Warblers?

Photo (left): Ric McArthur
Photo (right): Allen Woodliffe

Add immature birds to the mix and you’ll find yourself using the “Confusing Autumn Warbler” section of your favorite field guide much more often!

3. No more mating songs

Not only do birds become monotonous, but they no longer need to sing to communicate with potential mates. You will have to rely solely on field marks to identify these birds!

But don’t let this dampen your spirits!

Fall is a beautiful time to be in any park! The weather is nice, the summer crowds have dispersed, the mosquitoes are taking a break, and the trees are beautiful!

bird watchers on a fall trail in Rondeaubring a friend – more eyes are always better when it comes to bird watching.

Take a slow walk along your favorite trail, attentive to movement in the canopy.

Focus your binoculars on the bird and look for familiar markings (in most species, these field markings are lighter in color, but still present).

Follow your first hunch. Although the birds are dull, it could be that yellowish spot on the head and the white bars on the wings that made you think of a Chestnut-sided Warbler, even though it was missing the chestnut side.

Make notes of what you notice about the bird so you can look for it later. Using apps like eBird and iNaturalist can help you know what other people in the area are seeing and could help you narrow down your options!

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But above all, be patient and persevere! Everything gets better with practice and experience, and there’s no better place to practice your new hobby than out in nature on a quiet trail!