Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Warblers and Weather

Something is in the air. It isn’t just autumn and it isn’t just smoke from the Station Fire. (Which is still burning in the Angeles Forest).

We are seeing a number of migratory bird species that we typically do not see in autumn:
  • Cassin’s kingbird (previously 12/06)
  • warbling vireo (previously 4/07)
  • Wilson’s warbler (annually, February and May)
  • black-headed grosbeak (annually, April to early August)

If it were just one unusual siting, I wouldn’t think much of it. A Wilson’s warbler arrived last week. After seeing it in the yard, I later found it sitting on the window sill. It seemed exhausted and gagging on our smoke-filled air. I easily scooped it up and brought it inside for a few hours. It was out of my cage in a moment, (they are smaller than you think), and it spent the day sleeping perched on a quiet bookshelf. In the late afternoon, we opened the window and gently shooed it out.

I was thrilled, this morning when three warbling vireos passed through the yard. They stopped for food and water. But it made me start to wonder: Why are we seeing these birds?

Would they usually stop in the Angeles Forest and they’ve found the habitat they depended on gone? All of the birds I have been seeing are species that have been here in our yard before, just at different times of the year. Are they individuals that remember this place?

But, none of these birds have been ash-covered. Two years ago following the large fires to the north of us, birds migrating south that stopped here were covered in ash, exhausted and hungry. Every time a new group arrived, we had a to clean the film of ash out of the bird bath. That isn’t happening.

When I looked at my past bird logs, I found that September of 2005 also had a variety of birds, migratory and non, that were unusual: a Costa’s hummingbird, house wren, song sparrow pair, brown-headed cowbird, a very late hooded oriole, and a black-headed grosbeak. The black-headed grosbeak made me wonder about the weather in 2005.

But the September weather in Woodland Hills in 2005 had a median low of 56˚F and a median high of 85.5˚F, while this year, 2009, the temperatures have been much higher: median low 62˚F and median high 95˚F. The winter of 2005 was cool, but dry. That isn’t what we are hoping for this winter.

Another marker of 2005 was that the white-crowned sparrows arrived very early. Rather than mid to late October, the white-crowns arrived on September 30th. It will be interesting to see when they return this year. 2008 white-crowns return

The meteorologists are predicting a wet El Nino year. Do the birds know better? Are we in for another cool, but dry winter?

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