By the time we get to mid-October, the autumn continues to unfold, but differently than what we saw in September. With the shortening days, we get cooler temperatures; frost and even some temporary ice might form.
Leaf colors are not over, but much of the yellows and most of the reds seen a couple of weeks ago have waned. We are beginning to see the next phase of fall foliage colors — the yellow-gold of the tamaracks in the swamps. Their show continues into the next couple of weeks.
And soon, the foliage that we still have will have dropped. Except for a few hardy asters, goldenrods and sunflowers, the wildflowers have succumbed to the shorter colder days.
But the autumn and the migration continues. The main flights at Hawk Ridge are not the same as what we saw a month ago, but raptors continue to move south and can be seen daily. Red-tailed hawks, sharp-shinned hawks and bald eagles are joined by turkey vultures, harriers and merlins. I find that the cloudy days in October are great times to observe this annual raptor flight.
Not all raptors migrate in the daytime. Though we normally do not see them, this is the time of October when small owls called saw-whet owls will also fly by. They are not watched and counted like the diurnal birds, but many are caught and banded in their low-flying nocturnal movements. Some October nights will reveal hundreds.
Canada geese and various ducks are joined by the movement of swans. Besides the raptors and waterfowls, plenty of smaller birds are passing as well. I don’t think there is a better time of the whole year to see the variety of sparrows in the Northland than early October. Perhaps a half-dozen kinds can be seen each day. Some breed here and are slow to move on. They are joined by those from further north.
Lapland longspurs and snow buntings are arriving at this time. They may stay for a while, but normally, they do not for the entire cold season. Lots of these sparrows may be right in our yards. Going to places like Hawk Ridge or Park Point we expect to see these avian trekkers. But sometimes, they are seen in unexpected sites.
Not long ago, I stopped at a convenience store in the region. After making my transactions and going back out to the car, I glanced into the nearby grass at some movement. A closer look revealed that these brown critters were not mammals, but a couple of birds. With the use of binoculars, I was able to identify them as pipits.
Though not too well-known or seen, American pipits are regular visitors during the fall migration. I don’t usually go to convenience stores to see these brown birds. They are more likely seen along lakeshores or other open sites, but I do see them every year, especially in October, and they're usually not seen large flocks.
The migration of the pipits is late since they nest in the far-north tundra and winter in the gulf states or Mexico. These 6-inch birds are brown and “sparrow-like” except for a thin bill. Unlike our sparrows, they frequently walk with wagging of tails.
Pipits are not likely to stay around very long and I was glad to observe the ones that I saw, even if they were in the grass at a convenience store.