Hatchlings have left the nest. The summer days are getting shorter. Trees are starting to look dry and worn. With these changes many birds start to show restlessness and begin moving south. Shorebirds, which are among the longest migrators, start moving as early as July. Some song birds start in August with most on the move in September. If you are like me, you were taught that birds move from south to north in the spring and return south along the same routes. For many birds this is true, but for some, the truth is a little more complicated. Take, for example, the Blackpoll Warbler.

The Blackpoll Warbler (Photo by Derek Bakken) is a non-descript black and white bird. Compared to many of its more brightly colored cousins it is downright plain. Even its song, a high-pitched tsisisiSISISISIsisisis, is bland. Blackpolls come to our area to nest in the stunted conifers on mountain slopes. As a result, they are hard to see. Worse yet, the immature birds and females are an olive drab color similar to many other juvenile warblers. I was taught that the best way to identify these small birds is to look for their orange/yellow feet, sometimes only on the bottom of their feet. Are you kidding me! That’s what it takes to identify this bird? For years I didn’t even try. That was until I learned about their migration route.

Blackpoll Warblers spend the winter in Caribbean and South America. When they fly north they come across the Gulf of Mexico and fly up the eastern seaboard and then fan out across the boreal forest. However, their return home is something remarkable. Recent studies confirmed that in the fall, Blackpoll Warblers mass along the coast of New England. When conditions are right, they fly out to sea and spend three days flying non-stop down to the Caribbean. There, they rest and refuel before flying over water again to reach their winter grounds in South America. This is not typical behavior for songbirds. Most avoid flying over large bodies of water when possible. What would normally be a death sentence for many birds turns out to be a successful strategy for Blackpolls.

So, the next time you visit Valentine Farm Conservation Center look for migrants which may be passing through on remarkable flights. Keep watch for a small bird with orange feet. You might catch a glimpse of a Blackpoll Warbl

Blackpoll Warbler Photo: Derek Bakken

er as it heads toward the coast.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at www.mahoosuc.org. To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to [email protected]

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