September Bird Forecast: High-flyers
By: Jim Spencer
What to watch for in September: High-flyers
Here’s the Central Texas bird forecast for the month, courtesy of Travis Audubon. Learn more about Central Texas birds and bird-related events for all ages at travisaudubon.org or by calling 512-300-BIRD. Follow us at www.facebook.com/travisaudubon
The Days Shorten and Birds Head South
Texas is a thoroughfare for birds moving to warmer regions for the winter months. Its position on the avian central flyway guarantees that a remarkable diversity of species, from tiny warblers to large raptors, will pass through. According to a Texas Parks and Wildlife publication 333 species (over half of the birds that occur in Texas) are long-distance migrants that move from Canada and the U.S. south to Central and South America. Migrants can easily escape notice. Listen for the contact calls of warblers as they forage in your trees. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, small, slim birds, have a characteristic wheeze that might cause you to look. Upland Sandpipers, a shorebird of the prairie states, have a bubbly three-note call as they fly over. Raptors are usually quiet, gliding fairly high in the sky, coming down only to roost before nightfall.
Camouflaged Broad-winged Hawk – Jane Tillman
Two raptors to watch for are the aerial Mississippi Kite and the Broad-winged Hawk. Both are very uncommon local nesters that seem to be expanding their breeding ranges into Travis County, particularly finding the habitat to their liking in Northwest Hills off Far West and Mopac.
Juvenile Broad-winged Hawk – Jane Tillman
The Broad-winged Hawk is rather noisy, issuing a shrill “peteeet” whistle in flight and perched. This small chunky-bodied hawk likes to perch in woods where it hunts small prey, including insects, small mammals, frogs, reptiles, and the occasional bird. Birds like to mob Broad-winged Hawks and other birds of prey, with several species joining in to broadcast the raptors’ presence as they try to drive them off. When you hear a bunch of noisy scolding wrens, chickadees and titmice follow the sound to its source. You might be surprised to see a hawk take off or continue to pretend it is camouflaged.
Migrating Broad-winged Hawks – Jane Tillman
One of the most amazing things about Broad-winged Hawks is their sheer numbers during fall migration. One of the best known places to witness this is at the hawk watch at Hazel Bazemore County Park in Corpus Christi. At Hazel Bazemore the peak concentration of raptors occurs between September 23 and 30, depending on the weather. If you are lucky, you might see a hundred thousand birds pass by in one day. Most of the birds are Broad-winged Hawks on their way to northern South America. Sharp-eyed observers will also see falcons, vultures, other hawk species, and even a few eagles and osprey. If you don’t feel confident in your identification skills, visit during the Celebration of Flight the last weekend in September. Hawk counters will help with identification and impress you with their dedication. An even more remarkable place to watch Broad-winged Hawk migration is in the Mexican state of Veracruz, where a peak one day flight of more than 500,000 birds has been recorded!
Adult Mississippi Kite – Byron Stone
Mississippi Kites are elegant falcon-like birds with almost effortless, buoyant flight. The adult is a sleek gray with a white head, dark wings and a distinctive wedge-shaped dark tail. The wingspan is about 31 inches. Juvenile birds have reddish leading edges to their underwings and banded black and white tails. These Kites have a somewhat similar call to the Broad-winged Hawks, but sound more plaintive, with a descending whistled “pee-pheew” sometimes given in flight. Flocks exceeding 1000 individuals have been recorded in south Texas in late August to early October, according to Birds of North America Online. Most will be south of the border by October 15. The Hazel Bazemore Hawk Watch is a good place to see them. In Austin the more you go out birding the more likely you are to come across them soaring overhead as they hunt a variety of prey like grasshoppers, beetles and small birds. A recent August sighting of nineteen birds occurred over Ledge Mountain in Northwest Hills.
Juvenile Mississippi Kite – Byron Stone
Hawk identification can be challenging so take a photo and study features like wing shape, breast and belly color, and tail length to figure out the species. Merlin, a free app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a good tool to use, as is posting your photo on What’s This Bird?
Upcoming Travis Audubon Events – Check the events calendar.
Monthly Meeting — Jérémie Royer, the French illustrator of Audubon, On the Wings of the World, a graphic novel, will speak about the book and his craft. 7:00 p.m. Thursday, September 20, 2018 Location: Hyde Park Christian Church, 610 E 45th St., Austin, TX 78751
Travis Audubon Field Trips — Beginners welcome. There is no better way to learn more about our central Texas birds than to go on a field trip. Check the Travis Audubon calendar for details. Some require registration and most are free.
World Shorebirds Day on September 6 at 6:00 p.m. Shorebirds are amazing long-distance migrants, and the best place to enjoy them in Austin is at fabled Hornsby Bend. Last year participants saw American Avocets, Spotted, Least and Pectoral Sandpipers and a couple of plover species. You won’t have to get up early to see these birds!
Hornsby Monthly Bird Walk on September 15 at 7:30 a.m.: Get acquainted with the birds of the city’s Wastewater Sludge Treatment Facility! This is a good field trip for beginners who want to get oriented to the wonders of Hornsby.
Two Hour Tuesday at Champion Park on September 18 at 7:30 a.m. Join us at this excellent 90 acre lakefront park for a bird walk. We will look for the early arrival of over-wintering birds as well as hold-over summer residents and year-round birds.
COMPILED BY JANE TILLMAN, TRAVIS AUDUBON VOLUNTEER
REPOSTED WITH PERMISSION FROM KXAN’S WEATHER BLOG