Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wing Wraiths

Twice a year a movement of animals passes through my backyard. It is most likely the periphery of a great mass moving further east of here, but impressive never the less. It rivals what most would think of when asked to name an animal migration; wildebeest moving around the plains of East Africa , Mongolian gazelle moving through the steppes of Asia, or caribou moving through the barrens of the American arctic, but this one happens over the top of millions of people and most never know it occurred. It happens mostly at night and rather than large hoofed animals, the migrants are an assortment of small, feathered dynamos not any larger that the hooves of the animals I described earlier. For those of us who know what we are witnessing and know what is happening in the vernal and autumnal skies, the mass migration of millions of birds from the northern part of North America to more benign environs further south, is even more impressive, if not as obvious, as the more well known migrations of their bigger, terrestrial, counterparts.

Much like the migrations of large mammals with their deadly shepherds of lions, hyenas, and wolves, the movement of large flocks of birds have their attendant ghost riders as well. The shepherds I see most often are the shadow followers of warblers and sparrows. As Dad says, when the White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows start appearing in the rose thickets and dogwood, the accipters are not far behind. Most often it is the smaller Sharp-shinned Hawk we find, perched in the corner of the yard, noticed after the sparrows instantly melt into the rose thicket and the Downy Woodpecker merges with the suet feeder.

Last week it was the larger Coopers Hawk that resulted in a silence in my backyard. It was a young, brown cloaked bird that emerged from the neighbords cottonwood and slipped into the plum in my backyard. It waited and watched and I was able to find it through a gap in the fading leaves. It slipped away, there at one glance, gone the next.


Beverly said...

John...thanks so much for posts like this. I'm aware that as the Juncos return, so will the White-crowned Sparrows I’ve had here; but I had no idea the accipters were migrating too. I actually thought, here in the Southern Rockies, we had Sharpies and Coopers, as well as the Great Horned Owls, year round...just like the Downy & Hairy Woodpeckers.

I figured the reason I saw them more often in the winter was because, as food becomes more difficult to procure, hunting backyard feeders becomes more popular.

I have this idea I don’t live in a migration path…because I’ve not seen streams of birds (other than the V-patterns of water-birds), fly right over my home. But then…I’ve not looked or listened at night. I’m going to give it a try. I will say that I’ve seen HUGE flocks of birds while driving the highway out on the plains; hundreds of birds wheeling and turning, flashing in the sun…not unlike schools of fish we’ve all seen on Cousteau films.

Thanks also for your post (at my place) regarding the projectile vomiting birds. I do hope you’re able to solve the mystery for me!

Matt Mullenix said...

Fantastic accipiter shots! Perfect, esp., of the Coop, whose personality fits this angle to a T.