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I appreciate birds but don’t know much about them. When I walk in the woods, I’m always
looking down, not up where the birds are likely to be. It amazes me when I’m around
serious birders when they confidently recognize a species by its call without ever
seeing it flitting in the branches above. This task is made even harder when so many
of the birds hiding in the branches are just passing through on their fall migration.
Facebook catches a lot of guff from its critics but it does provide a forum for people
to share their special knowledge about the natural world. One of my Facebook friends
is Joe Neal, a retired wildlife biologist who worked for many years for the Forest
Service in the Ouachita National Forest and now lives in Fayetteville. Joe is a serious
birder, a patient natural history photographer and a seriously hard worker. He goes
out almost every day in a different direction and waits and watches to see what the
natural world will serve up. For the past month he’s been featuring migrating song
birds, many of which I’ve never heard of nor seen.
To we non-birders, fall migration begins when the Vs of geese high in the sky honk
their way south ahead of a cold front further north. While these migrating water fowl
are the most noticeable migratory birds, they are not the most numerous. More than
350 species of North American birds do what is referred to as long-distance migration.
These species move north to breeding grounds in the United States and Canada in the
summer and south to overwintering grounds in South and Central America in the fall.
For years I’ve enjoyed the return of nesting pairs of brown thrush and catbirds to
my Fayetteville garden. The brown thrush, according to the range maps shown for it,
overwinter in our area but not in my garden. They are what naturalists refer to as
short-range migrators, with central Texas being their primary overwintering ground.
The gray catbird has long-distance migration and overwinters in just a narrow band
of brushy land along the Gulf of Mexico from Florida throughout Central America and
in the Caribbean Islands. I notice their arrival in the late spring but never notice
them slip away in the fall.
The neotropic migrants – birds such as the Baltimore Oriole, Indigo Bunting, Ruby-Throated
hummingbird and, my favorite, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – overwinter in Central
America and make the journey north every spring for nesting. Many of the smaller species
migrate at night to avoid predators, so observant birders can often find migratory
species hanging out in roadside weeds during the day as they refuel for the trip south.
The fastest amongst them travel at 30 miles per hour, with a 3,000-mile journey taking
several weeks to complete.
While I have yet to see my first flock of south-bound geese, in the last week Neal
has helped log the southbound migration of hawks from atop Mt. Magazine to blue grossbeaks,
common yellowthroats and many other sparrow-sized birds in Benton County. This fall
migration goes on around us every fall but most of us are not tuned in to the ways
of nature closely enough to notice these subtle travelers. But, thanks to Facebook
and the work of Joe Neal and other dedicated birders, I now know more about a slice
of nature I’ve missed out on all my life.
Gerald Klingaman is a retired Arkansas Extension Horticulturist and retired Operations
Director for the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. After more than two decades of penning the popular Plant of the Week column, he’s taking a new direction, offering views on nature as he pokes about the
state and nation. Views and opinions reflect those of the author and are not those
of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. If you have questions
or comments for Dr. Klingaman about these articles contact him at email@example.com.