Last year, I had a wonderful October hike – sunny, lovely foliage, and excellent birding. A winter wren was practically at my feet when I stopped by the pond. At least a dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers flitted all around me on the ground, fly-catching, seeming to pay me no mind. And I got my first excellent close-up view of a Blue-headed Vireo, allowing me to appreciate what the bird was named for.
Even though the weather forecast eventually decided against rain, the sky was still overcast. As such, the air felt cool. But the birds still went about their business. Autumn migration must continue. Our group of 8 consisted of mostly birdwatchers. We were not disappointed for much of the hike.
As I predicted, the warbler corner was active. We spotted a Swainson’s Thrush, two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, a towhee, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. And for the first time in three years, I saw my first male Purple Finch (there were three in total). Before this hike, I would only see female Purple Finches. I was reluctant to eventually count them as a lifer, but after seeing so many females and not one male I gave in at a certain point.
One finch agreeably stayed in one place for a couple minutes, eating berries in a low bush. It couldn’t have picked a better spot – it was in the middle of the thicket, but I found an angle in which I could look through a “hole.” I was happy to be able to compare its plumage to a male House Finch’s firsthand. The former certainly has much more color on their body. Very pink, not quite magenta. Not as streaky and brown as the House Finch. Male Purple Finches also have diagnostic facial markings: a thick, darker pink strip that washes over their eyes, and a white-ish eyeline.
The pond’s water level had risen since last month. The waterfowl enjoyed the invitation. We counted at least 16 Wood Duck, 9 Black Duck, and 4 Mallard. No sighting of the Great Blue Heron from the previous couple months.
Our way up to the power lines was quiet, save for the ubiquitous Blue Jays, titmice, chickadees, and White-breasted Nuthatches. (Not a peep from a Red-breasted Nuthatch today, if you’re wondering.) We did hear some fantastic drumming. It possibly came from one of the resident Pileated Woodpeckers.
Right at the beginning of the path that leads to the power lines, we watched a winter flock: chickadees, titmice, a couple more Ruby-crowend Kinglets, and some Yellow-rumped Warblers. They flitted around the canopy. I mostly saw silhouettes against the bright overcast sky. I barely got looks at the kinglets, and I could only hear the butterbutts’ snick calls.
Upon reaching power lines, I heard calls from White-throated Sparrows. A lively bush produced half a dozen Northern Mockingbirds, more White-throated Sparrows, an Eastern Phoebe, and an unidentifiable sparrow species. We spotted another towhee, and we heard Eastern Bluebirds in the distance but never saw them. I went ahead a little and saw a Northern Harrier glide across the field towards the sanctuary. It happened so quickly I couldn’t give a shout to anyone else about it. Shortly after, a Pileated also flew across, whooping loudly, and landed on a tree that borders the sanctuary and the field. Almost everyone got the opportunity to observe it.
Not surprisingly, our hike was quiet on the way down again. This part of the sanctuary has no understory, thanks to the deer. I don’t often witness bird activity here unless there is a more common woodpecker or a White-breasted Nuthatch. Nevertheless, the air wasn’t alarmingly quiet. The crickets hummed continuously. The spring peepers peeped. I took the chance to concentrate on appreciating the foliage.
Near the end of the trail, where there is more understory, we began to hear more birds. Just Blue Jays mostly, a couple Carolina Wrens, and the same birds from the beginning of the hike, including the Swainson’s Thrush. While I and another birder lingered in the parking lot to compare lists, another Pileated Woodpecker flew over us, bringing a nice conclusion to this month’s hike.