August 22, 2006 [LINK]

First nighthawk of autumn

On Sunday I noticed that some warblers* had arrived in town, clearly indicating that fall migration season has begun. Late this afternoon on my way to Blockbusters I saw a Common nighthawk flapping its long pointed wings, in the characteristic intermittent, halting rhythm. We saw several of them in South Dakota, but they don't breed this far south, so it is yet another sign of autumn. In August?? Well, the temperatures have been pretty mild lately. In Virginia, we usually see nighthawks only in late August and early September. This evening Jacqueline and I took a casual drive along Bell's Lane, but not much was happening ... until we came across a Sharp-shinned hawk right next to the road! It flew up into a nearby tree, and I cautiously approached before it flew further away.

* Local bird expert YuLee Larner questioned me about the Blackpoll warbler, because the earliest in the fall that one had ever been seen in this area before was September 1, and I told her I couldn't be more than 90 percent certain about the identification. For the bird record-keeping authorities, that is just not good enough. The most likely alternative species, however, is the Bay-breasted warbler, and it happens to have the same earliest fall arrival date: September 1. So, I'm pretty sure that I broke one of those records, but I just can't be absolutely certain which one it was!

Speaking of uncertainties, when I saw all those other warblers at Montgomery Hall Park on Sunday, I also saw a very plain olive brown warbler and happened to get a good view of the underside of its tail. That is one of the best ways to distinguish warblers that are otherwise very similar, especially in the fall, when many of those species lose their breeding plumages. Anyway, I think it was probably (60 percent?) an Orange-crowned warbler, the only one of which I had seen for certain before was in Oaxaca, Mexico!