On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions. From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
This series was created by Alain Chamot (1971-2020).
Happy Monday, everybody! We start off with Albatrossity, then have barn photos from JanieM, and then we’re on with BillinGlendale because it’s Wednesday. On Thursday tom takes us to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and on Friday TomV takes us to Budapest!
The first week of September, when many of these shots were taken, is typically the transition between summer and autumn here in my patch of Flyover Country. This year was no exception; we have local birds leaving, northern migrants passing through, and some of our winter residents bulking up during the fat season.
Fresh fall plumage for this Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) means that it is time to leave Kansas and head to the western parts of Mexico. This normally exceedingly dull-colored bird looks its very best right after this fall molt.
Mississippi Kites (Ictinia mississippiensis) were my “spark bird”, aka the bird that got me interested in bird-watching. They were abundant summer residents in my home town of Garden City KS, and my brother and I even “rehabbed” one that had struck a window in the church building across the street. That means we kept it in a box for a day, fed it cicadas, and watched it fly off the next day. All of which is illegal unless you are a licensed rehabber, of course. This one, however, seems to be telling me to back off…
This is a 2021 model-year Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula), as judged by the spiffy unworn feathers and the fleshy gape at the corners of its mouth. Its first trip south is just a couple of weeks away; a winter in Central America is hopefully a prelude to seeing it again next May here.
Common Nighthawks (Chordeiles minor) can sometimes allow very close approach, since they are pretty convinced that you don’t see them hunkered down and imitating a bump on a tree branch. So this one allowed me to approach ridiculously close for this portrait, close enough that you can see its weird tiny bill and huge nostril. Here’s a lovely essay on all things nighthawk by my friend Laura Erickson.
That completely fresh-feathered Warbling Vireo above is ahead in the molting game compared to this still-molting Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), because the vireo is a migrant leaving soon, and the chickadee will be here all winter. So it can molt a bit later and will have fresher feathers for the winter ahead. Chickadees are damn cute, but that masks a bad-ass attitude that would put a rat terrier to shame. Pugnacious and aggressive, they will fight you every second while you are trying to band them. After a few of those experiences I decided that the world would be a very dangerous place if chickadees attained the size of humans.
A bird waiting to go through its first winter in Flyover Country, this young Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) has only a hint of red on its otherwise grey head. It was learning to fend for itself, exploring this dead snag for any tasty snacks its parents might have overlooked.
Here’s another youngster, foraging on its own and hopefully fattening up enough to make it through the upcoming winter. Young Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are distinguished by their dusky bills, rather than the fully lipstick-red versions found on the adults. This one still has some dusky hints on the bill, but it will be fully red soon.
Bald Eagles (Haliæetus leucocephalus) are found year-round pretty much everywhere in North America these days, thanks to those pesky government regulations in the Endangered Species Act. This bird is probably in its fifth year on the planet; you can see some faint brown feathering still in the head and tail, which will be pure white in older birds.
Migrant warbler season peaks here in late September/early October, but some will arrive in early September, like this Nashville Warbler (Leiothlypis ruficapilla). Despite the name, this warbler is only seen in Tennessee during migration, and spends summers in second-growth shrubby forests in the northern US and southern Canada. Although this is thought of as a typical eastern warbler, there are disjunct populations (originally called the Calaveras Warbler) in the northwestern US and adjacent Canada.
Another early migrant through these parts is the Least Flycatcher (Empidonax minimus). Many Empidonax Flycatchers are difficult to ID away from the breeding range; unless they vocalize, they are best left identified only at the genus level. Fortunately the Least Flycatcher lives up to its name; it is quite diminutive and relatively easy to ID based on its tiny size. The fact that it is the most common of the Empidonax flycatchers is helpful as well!