By Dave Curry
The fall migration is in full swing now. Occasional large Vs of duck or geese will be seen passing overhead. Hawks and eagles ride the thermals along the mountainside, most headed south to regions as far as Central and South America.
In the arctic region, reindeer will be moving great distances, as will wildebeests in the Serengeti of Africa. Even some fish and insects will be getting in on the action.
Monarch butterflies head toward a safe home area to winter in Mexico. Brook trout are moving upstream to spawn.
All are looking for a better environment, an area where more or better food may be found, or a more secure area to have their young.
Many migrants will pass without notice. Such is the case with the warbler migration. In pursuit of the same, we did our own migration of sorts to the Dolly Sods Wilderness just north of here beyond Seneca Rocks. I like to go there yearly to visit the Allegheny Front Migration Observatory. Located across from Red Creek Campground, volunteers from the Brooks Bird Club have manned the station for 55 years.
To monitor the passing songbirds, mist nets are strung from pole to pole along a small area along the front overlooking a beautiful valley. As the small birds come through, they become entangled in the nets and are taken to the counting shed where they are recorded. Species of bird, age, sex, wing length, and sometimes weight all get recorded and go into the data base. Each bird receives a small metal band attached to one leg containing a unique number so that recovered birds can be traced and migration routes better understood. The baseline of information created by all this data can indicate species of concern or decline as well as the general health of our ecosystem.
Most of the banded birds will be warblers, small, insignificant and often very plain. Many species are difficult to identify until a bander has the bird in hand and can take a closer look. Others are colorful and feisty. And not all are in the warbler group. Occasionally larger, more common birds like robins, thrushes, woodpeckers, tanagers and grosbeaks are caught and tagged.
More than 5,000 birds have already been caught and banded this year. Mid-September is usually the peak of migration. In 2010 the most banded bird was the black throated blue warbler with 2,100 caught and released. 2010 was a record year with 10,363 birds of 82 different species tagged and released over the seven week season. If you are interested in more statistics, check out Brooksbirdclub.org
If you are planning a trip to the AFMO, you should know the nets open at daylight and usually close before noon. Bird flights taper off considerably after 10 a.m. as birds rest and eat as the day warms up. There are always plenty of certified bird handlers and watchers willing to show and explain the finer details. Get there early. Take a jacket or sweater. Elevation is high and the air can be cool. Also, take your camera and binoculars. You don’t want to miss any eagles or broad wings. Also be forewarned that you will drive over a lot of narrow, gravel roads to get there. If the weather is foggy or rainy, cancel out for another day. Dolly Sods can be accessed from Rt. 28N or from Rt. 34 north of Harmon.
Pick out a day of good weather and make the road trip. Red Creek CG was a two-hour drive from Green Bank. And you can always top off your day with lunch at The Front Porch Restaurant in the old Country Store overlooking (maybe underlooking) Seneca Rocks. The nets close down in early October and the migration comes to an end.
No mountain lions were seen.