Spring Migration at Blair Woods

By Emily Novak

Each month, a survey is conducted to track the bird species that are using the ecosystem and resources that are found at Blair Woods. Thank you to all of the volunteers who have lent us your eyes and ears throughout the last few months.

Lincoln’s Sparrow. Photo courtesy of Emily Novak.

February Survey: It is nearly springtime at Blair Woods and the first signs of new bright green life are starting to push through the ground. The cleavers (Galium aparine), despite being just seedlings, are already happily clinging to your socks as you walk along the path. In late February, the only other signs of the oncoming season are the delicate feathery leaves of yarrow (Achillea millefolium) that have strong young stalks but won’t start flowering until mid April. The thick brambles from last year’s growth are full of White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) loudly singing but always from a safe distance. White-crowned Sparrows winter in Texas but will soon start migrating north in late April to their Canadian breeding grounds. Lincoln’s Sparrows will also begin migrating in the next two months but in February you can still spot them along the edges of the path or hear their metallic chips from the underbrush. This year, there have been record numbers of American Robin (Turdus migratorius) in the Austin area, Blair Woods being no exception. The American Robins are everywhere, from hiding in the thick brush, running along the pathway, to covering the branches of the upper canopy. Although American Robins are here in Austin year round, their high numbers this year has been a wonderful treat.

Yellow-rumped Warbler. Photo courtesy of Emily Novak.

March Survey: By March, Blair Woods has few remaining signs that there was a cold winter. The cleavers are in full swing 1-2 feet high and dotted with tiny delicate white flowers. The air is heavy and sweet from the wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) hanging along the pathways. There are significantly fewer Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata) chirping from the tops of the trees as most have already begun to migrate. Similarly, there is a noticeable decrease in the numbers of Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) that whistle as they fly overhead. One of the smallest wintering birds, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula), is still present in March but there are fewer than last month as they too begin to migrate. New arrivals appear, adding different songs and calls making your ears perk up. The Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica), for example, swoop overhead, constantly chittering away. The pond has drawn a male and female pair of Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa), year-round residents settling in for nesting season.

Bluecurls. Photo courtesy of Emily Novak.

April Survey: The bright saturated blues and purples of the prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida), Texas bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis), and bluecurls (Phacelia congesta) are all attracting pollinators. The trees that were bare in February are providing good cover, adding an extra challenge to spotting birds at Blair Woods. The few wintering residents lingering include the Lincoln’s Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows. A new arrival, the Nashville Warbler (Leiothlypis ruficapilla) sings through the high canopy. Central Texas’ breeding residents are just arriving, including Scissor-tailed Flycatchers (Tyrannus forficatus), Blue-gray Gnatcatchers (Polioptila caerulea), Great Crested Flycatchers (Myiarchus crinitus), and many more. 

The flora and fauna at Blair Woods are always in a state of flux. No matter what time of the year, there will always be something interesting that catches your eye. Feel free to join us on the next survey (apply to be a volunteer) so we can explore the changes in the woods together. 

Featured image above of Wood Ducks. Photo courtesy of Emily Novak.