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Sunday, November 22, 2020

Magee in 2020: Plan B

[Magee Marsh. September 2020]

What would one do if Magee Marsh, the warbler capital of the US, should remain closed in Spring due to the Pandemic? If Plan A for the intrepid birder be thwarted, surely Plan B would demand a visit to Magee in the Fall. And so in this spirit we explore Fall songbird migration at this iconic venue.

Fall migration is at its peak in the first two weeks of September and warbler diversity and numbers are fairly good yet the crowds are absent. Yet risks abound: excepting a few species, birders are forced to re-learn their warbler plumages. For example, Chestnut-sided Warbler, does not show chestnut sides: 

The fog of identification confusion continues with the all-too-similar Bay-breasted and Blackpoll warblers:

The Bay-breasted above only betrays a hint of bay on the flanks. Blackpoll Warbler's plumage is no better:

Gone is the striking black cap and white undersides with bold streaking. Next, Cape May which usually radiates maroon accents on bright yellow, is now a dull yellow-grey:

Farther down the boardwalk, movement in the trees above afforded a fleeting look at Canada Warbler -- still mercifully recognizable due to its prominent eyering and blue-grey upperparts:

Ovenbird, however, stayed mostly true to its Spring look:

American Redstart:

... and Blackburnian were a shadow of their breeding brilliance:

Black-and-white has no colors to speak of that fade: 

Black-and-white loses its black chin in the Fall; however this Black-throated Green still sported most of its diagnostic marks:

Northern Parula:


With fewer people, the birds did not hesitate to enjoy the boardwalk:

And, there were variations between individual plumages of the same species, such as this Cape May:

Which was mainly grey compared to the following, which showed a fair amount of yellow as it feasted on flower buds:

Other than warblers, there were flycatchers such as this Eastern Phoebe:

Red-breasted Nuthatch:

Red-eyed Vireo:

In September, flowers help fuel Ruby-throated Hummingbird migrations:

Swainsons's Thrush:

While Spring is justifiably glorified in the birding calendar, Fall is the season when we are truly tested. Although the bright colors are gone, the faded glory of autumnal plumages lingers just enough to provide challenge and enjoyment to the intrepid birder.

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