Early September follows the last weeks of August by being a time filled with nature happenings.

The woods still abound with mushroom species. Roadsides and fields have an abundance of blooming late-summer flowers, especially sunflowers, goldenrods and asters. These plants host myriad insects often buzzing with activity. Opportunistic spiders build webs here to feed on the available prey.

Days can still be quite warm, but these days are also getting shorter. With sunrise at about 6:30 a.m. and setting near 7:30 p.m., the 13 hours are moving toward the autumnal equinox. Though the summer was hotter than normal, decreasing daylight tells of other changes, as seen with migrants in early September.

It started slowly in midsummer with sporadic movements of tree swallows and shorebirds, but as we went through August, so did more bird migration. Now, in early September, migrants are a daily occurrence.

Being where we are, near Lake Superior, we frequently see this autumn avian phenomenon as birds, heading to the south, choose to fly by us rather than cross the big lake.

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Each day now, during my morning walk, I hear and see flocks of Canada geese. Starting with just a couple about a month ago, these flocks have enlarged to more than 20. Ducks of different kinds are appearing and resting in wetlands as they fly by. Along the roadsides are groups of robins, blackbirds and waxwings.

These are mostly families that feed before going south, but the numbers regularly grow. Groups of flickers, a kind of woodpecker, are here, too, but often they pause to feed on ground ants.

At Hawk Ridge, raptors, especially sharp-shinned and broad-winged hawks, along with bald eagles, are on the move. But I like to sit in the yard and watch the warblers as they pass through.

Late last May, warbler waves, composed of several species, provided much interest as they traveled north. Of the nearly two dozen kinds coming by, about one-half remained to breed.

A black and white warbler as seen in autumn. (Photo by Mark Sparky Stensaas)
A black and white warbler as seen in autumn. (Photo by Mark Sparky Stensaas)

And as I observe these small 5-inch birds flitting through the branches at this time, I see that the ones who nested here are most common: ovenbirds, yellowthroats and redstarts along with chestnut-sided warblers, golden-winged warblers, black and white warblers, and Nashville warblers, all seen regularly.

The families feed as they move through the trees often in the company of nuthatches, chickadees or vireos. Unlike their visits in spring, they no longer sing. They have molted from their breeding plumage and adult birds have their young accompanying them. Such conditions make warbler watching in fall a little harder than spring.

Fortunately, most of the resident ones have not changed their plumage much, still looking similar to the way they appeared earlier. Others from farther north — Cape May warblers, bay-breasted warblers, blackpoll warblers and pine warblers — may be more of a challenge to recognize. In fall feathers, they may look quite different.

Birds flit through the branches as they move and feed. Usually, the families of warblers are mixed with other families, making groups of several species known as waves. With binoculars and patience, the different kinds of warblers can be discerned and they are a joy to watch. Such warbler waves will continue through at least the first half of the month.

Later, two species, palm warblers and yellow-rumped warblers, will show that the warbler flight is waning. But now, in early September, we see plenty of kinds of these moving warblers.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber