Thursday, November 13, 2014

Fall Reflections & Migrations

The colors of Fall are finally painting the landscapes of southern Mississippi.  Hues of orange, red and yellow have been a welcome sight during my recent commutes to and from work- a nice change from the summer greens.  

I made a few leisurely stops during my drive home from work on Monday morning. Within a week, most of these brightly colored leaves will be gone.  Approaching wintry weather will freeze those that remain.

Because I purposely had my camera on the passenger seat next to me, I paid closer attention to the birds that were stirring about.  Riding along with my windows partially down, I could hear the occasional call of typical area birds- Blue Jays and Mockingbirds in particular.  Several birds perched upon power lines and fences, soaking in the warmth of the beautiful morning and probably scanning the area below them for insects.

A few miles into my commute I observed a large number of small birds actively flitting about a couple of trees.   I parked my car and watched them.  Zipping in and out of the trees, they appeared to be chasing flying insects.  These birds were unfamiliar to me and  I was anxious to find out more about the little aviators.

I learned that these birds are identified as Yellow-Rumped Warblers, and are often seen perched on the outer limbs of trees and are very conspicuous as they fly out after insects, often making long, aerobatic pursuits and flashing their yellow rumps and white patches in the tail. The easiest time to see Yellow-Rumped Warblers is probably during fall migration, when hordes of them sweep down the continent, along the Eastern Seaboard, where wax myrtles are abundant.

 Yellow-Rumped Warbler (The moon is reflected by the sunlight in the this!)
Yellow-Rumped Warblers are aptly named for the patch of bright yellow feathers on their "rump".
Yellow is also seen on their sides and sometimes their throat (Western).
This time of the year, the warbler is dressed down for winter and the plumage colors are more subdued. 
In the East, this bird is also known as a "Myrtle Warbler"

Further along my route, I spotted what was probably a couple dozen birds perched upon a power line. From a distance I could see a faint glimpse of yellow, so I slowed down to check them out. Unfortunately, most of them flew off when I pulled the car over and opened the door.  I watched them fly overhead and disappear into the tall grassy meadow across the road.  One happened to lag behind so I quickly snapped a couple of shots before, it too, flew off to join the others.  These birds were also "new" to me- I didn't recall seeing any of them before.  I wished I had longer to tarry and capture more images that morning, but fatigue was settling in.

I looked through dozens of online bird images, hoping to identify this one.  When my attempts failed, I turned to a birding group on Facebook which identified it as an Eastern Meadowlark.  Eastern Meadowlarks live in farm fields, grasslands, and wet fields. They nest on the ground and sing from exposed perches such as treetops, fenceposts, and utility lines.  Eastern Meadowlarks are considered residents of the southern U.S. but some birds migrate to the northern states during summer breeding season.  Unfortunately, their numbers are declining due to their disappearing grassland habitat. The small, family farms with pastureland and grassy fields are being replaced by larger, row-cropping agricultural operations or by development. Early mowing, overgrazing by livestock, and the use of pesticides can also harm meadowlarks nesting on private lands.

Eastern Meadowlarks are stocky birds with a short tail and sharp, pointed bill.
They have long legs and large feet and streaked flanks.  Most noticeable are their bright yellow underparts.
Plumage colors of the Eastern Meadowlark are more muted in winter.
The distinctive "V" shape on their breast fades somewhat during non-breeding season.

Just a short distance from the meadowlark, I noticed another type of bird perched upon the power line.  This one was larger and appeared brown with spots all over.  It was alone.  I didn't recognize its species either.  However, it was quite easy to find its identity online...

The European (or Common) Starling is commonly seen in towns, suburbs, and countryside near human settlements. They feed on the ground on lawns, fields, sidewalks, and parking lots. They perch and roost high on wires, trees, and buildings.  At a distance, starlings look black. In summer they are purplish-green iridescent with yellow beaks; in fresh winter plumage they are brown, covered in brilliant white spots.  All the European Starlings in North America descended from 100 birds set loose in New York's Central Park in the early 1890s. The birds were intentionally released by a group who wanted America to have all the birds that Shakespeare ever mentioned. It took several tries, but eventually the population took off. Today, more than 200 million European Starlings range from Alaska to Mexico, and many people consider them pests.   Starlings are extremely aggressive birds that drive other species from nest sites they want to use. Among the species they’ve chased off are Wood Ducks, Buffleheads, Northern Flickers, Great Crested Flycatchers, Tree Swallows, and Eastern Bluebirds.

Starlings turn from spotted and white to glossy and dark each year without shedding their feathers.
The new feathers they grow in fall have bold white tips – that’s what gives them their spots.

I was feeling quite lucky to have seen 3 "newbie" birds in one day!  Thank goodness I had my camera!

Linked with Stewart at Wild Bird Wednesday


  1. lucky you

    must always have a camera *smile*

  2. The vibrant fall colors are gorgeous, especially as they're reflected on the lake! I also love the gentle fog!

  3. Wow wow wow - glorious fall colours!

  4. What lovely sights. I miss our autumn moments already. Darn winter arrived early here. Shucks.

  5. Wonderful autumn colours and beautiful reflections.

  6. our meadowlarks returned a couple of weeks ago. love to hear their songs in the pastures. i was able to see yellow-rumped come through on their migrations, but not in the last couple of years. and that starling is love in white spots!

    love your autumn colors, too.

  7. Your photos of the trees and the fabulous oh, and,....the little birdies too..... but, the trees .....

  8. Fabulous fall colours for you to enjoy on your work journey together with the avian wildlife.

  9. Your fall photos are gorgeous! So glad the butter butts are back. I'll be looking for them now. Thanks!

  10. Love your fall foliage images Susan. Our leaves are long gone but I have forgotten our beautiful color this year. Actually I'm still posting about it.

    Glad you found yourself three new birds and they are all beauties.