As we have reached the first of August, I want to share with you what is happening with our Hill Country birds and the visitors expected for other regions. At this date our breeding birds have either finished their annual breeding cycle or likely are raising their last clutch of youngsters. Purple Martins and Golden-cheeked Warblers have either left the area or will be doing so in the next week for their wintering grounds in Mexico southward to South America. The fall migration is currently in progress and will continue into November, depending on the weather conditions – early cold fronts tend to speed up the process.
Many of the bird species, especially those who travel long distances, are having hormones kick in that allow them to add fat to help them sustain long flight times. Those species that span the Gulf of Mexico may double their weights in preparation for their fall travel schedules. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are examples of birds that need the extra fuel on board to allow them to travel from the Texas coastline to the Campeche Peninsular in Mexico. Depending on favorable or unfavorable wind conditions, the trip can take over thirty hours of flight time.
Regarding hummingbirds, we can expect bundles of blazing orange energy to be arriving any day now. I am referring to the Rufous hummingbirds who breed in the Pacific Northwest and take the long way to their winter homes traveling eastward and passing through the Hill Country. I suspect several are here already and taking charge of the feeding areas in backyards. These tiny birds are very aggressive and very determined to protect any feeder they deem to be reserved for their exclusive use. Many of them like it here and elect to become winter Texans.
On the other end of the size-spectrum are a group of waders that tend to wander into Central Texas and the Hill Country in August and September. Among this group of large waders could be Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Ibises and both Yellow and Black crowned night herons. These nomads will take up positions along lakes, rivers and creeks; however, their schedules are very unpredictable as are the sites they my visit. Wood Storks, spoonbills and ibises are likely to choose a muddy stock ponds to search for worms and crustaceans. If you are lucky enough to see a Roseate Spoonbill, don’t expect him to be in his shocking “hot pink and red” plumages, but in dull light pink dress.
In contrast to the gaudy costumes of the breeding Roseate Spoonbills, most of the waders are not known for their beauty. Wood Storks are fairly long-legged, large, white birds with black in their wings and with bare heads and large bills – appearances only their mothers would love and appreciate. Ibises can be either dark iridescent-colored or white with black wing trim; the latter has a red bill. Night Herons. as their name implies, feed at night and roost during the day, so they may be hard to find. The likely birds to be confused in identification with the large white waders discussed above would be egrets – a quick look at their heads, bills, and faces will likely help sort out the pretty egrets from the not-so-pretty storks, spoonbills and ibises.
Sandpipers and plovers could be making appearances along shores of both streams and lakes. Many of these birds breed in the far northern regions where the cooling temperatures will soon send them southward. Similarly, some of the hawks, such as the American Kestrel, will be arriving to take up their winter territories in the Hill County.
What I have described above is just the opening act of the fall migration parade. Many species will be coming and going over the next few months – exciting times for birders. Many of the fall travelers have molted into less colorful plumages, but that plumage change just offers more challenges to us birders. Let the parade begin!