Fall migration has wound down and, as usual, I promise myself that I’ll study and learn “fall warblers” before next year. This is something I mutter at least once every fall when I see a loose flock of small birds, most of which look identical – olive green on their backs with a yellowish wash underneath. These are very difficult birds to identify.

Close friends gave me a painting which is among one of my most valued possessions (pictured). It is Roger Tory Peterson’s painting for the page in his field guide titled, “Confusing Fall Warblers”. This page is famous among birders, especially those who study warblers. A glance at this painting shows the problem. There are 14 different types of birds pictured. For the casual observer, they can be indistinguishable. To make it worse, imagine these birds, most of which are just inches long, flitting among leaves and branches which are of the same color.

That’s what happened a few weeks ago at our place in Albany. I watched a flock that contained at least five different types of birds. Probably more. They moved along the field edge. After 30 minutes, I could only confidently identify three of them. And, I confess, one of the three happened to be a chickadee that was just passing by. It’s at this point that I’ve come to realize that if my only goal is to correctly identify these birds, then I’m probably wasting my time. They are just too hard and it’s an exercise that, for me, ends in frustration. On this afternoon, I took a different approach. I realized I don’t need to name it or understand it to still enjoy it. Instead, I just watched these tiny birds flit in and out of sight gleaning food from leaves and bark. It was fascinating to think that many had probably just hatched weeks earlier. No doubt, some were undertaking their first migration – a migration which, for many, covers thousands of miles. Another 30 minutes passed while I watched them flowing around the house.

That night, I recorded in my journal, “mixed flock of fall warblers”. Yes, it irritates me that I’m not better at identifying each type. I would like to understand more about each bird’s preferred habitat, food, behaviors and why they migrate together. But, for now, I’m satisfied to just watch and wonder. Maybe next fall, maybe in another lifetime, I’ll learn more about confusing fall warblers.

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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