Thom Smith | Nature Watch: Many summer birds still around

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Q: I wonder just how late our summer birds stay in the fall. For instance, what is the latest?

- Jim, Hinsdale.

A: Many of our nesting songbirds arrive in April or May and leave in September or October. Although, unless we have banding records, it is not safe to say for instance, that a ruby-throated hummingbird seen on Nov. 2, when most have departed by mid-September, is a local nesting bird or a straggler from the north.

My opinion is that stragglers may be seen almost any time and may cause excitement because of their apparent tardiness. Some of the following records for better known birds. May well be stragglers or individuals simply passing through after being held up by storms north of us.

Most warblers that arrive in the spring to nest and rear young return to the tropics in September or October. The black and reddish-orange American redstart unusually departs by Oct. 6 with a few late reports including one Dec. 3 to 5. The yellow-rumped warbler (once called the myrtle warbler) nests in our coniferous forests and by late October has left for the southern United States or Central America. Stragglers are seen in the Berkshires through November and into December. One even survived the winter of 1972-73 by visiting a bird feeder.

The tree swallow (a competitor for bluebird nesting boxes) peak during fall migration in September, but the latest we have recorded is Nov. 7. Even the tiny ruby-throated hummingbird that usually departs by mid September has been seen in October with a very late record of Nov. 20. A distant relative from the west, the Rufous hummingbird, caused quite a ruckus in Lanesborough back in 2003 when one arrived on Oct. 11 and stayed through Dec. 2.

Average seasons for other well-known birds are early March to November for the red-winged blackbird. (I once saw one in December). Another blackbird called the brown-headed cowbird arrives here in mid-March and leaves by mid November; the Baltimore oriole arrives in the beginning of May and has mostly exited by Oct. 15. The song sparrow arrives in March and has departed by late November. And while the rose-breasted grosbeak arrives about May 3, it has departed by Sept. 30, although there are reports of its being seen well into October.

Many of the above-mentioned birds are seen later by the experienced birders because they spend more time looking for them and don't rely on song alone at this season, but more on their call notes (peeps and chirps), and knowledge of their often different non-breeding appearance. Most songbirds sing little when not nesting or defending their territory.

QWe had an infestation of box elder beetles this summer. There were literally thousands through the summer that swarmed the south side of our house. I searched the web and there isn't any solid advice on controlling them other than cutting down all box elder trees within a mile radius and killing them one by one with a spray bottle of soapy water. Please advise.

- Sergio, North Adams.

AI have not heard of a swarm throughout the summer such as you report, and unless they have gotten into your house, we have until next spring to research this.

QThis morning, Tuesday, Dec. 9 — mild around 40 degrees and no wind — I drove by Lake Mansfield in Great Barrington and what a sight!

At least 150 geese, maybe more, were floating in the lake and all were Canada geese.

I was hoping to find a stray, but no luck — all Canada geese.

But they were obviously in three separate groupings. I'm wondering if they represented three separate flocks that stay together and fly together.

When I passed again at noon, only a mere 30 or so stragglers were left.

— Michael, Great Barrington.

AJust as large gatherings of geese in fields may be more than one flock settling in for a rest, or opportunity to feed, I believe the same is true on the water. And these geese may merge into one even larger flock and continue their journey however far that may be. One scenario may be that the thirty remaining birds are the non migratory (local) birds and the rest may be "wild geese" migrating from the north, say Canada.

Thom Smith welcomes your questions and comments. Email him at Naturewatch@live.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.

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