Loons, cormorants and swans go south

Loons, cormorants and swans go south

Sky-watching can be fun at any time of year, but there’s something special about November — seeing hundreds of large waterbirds arrowing overhead, some of the swans calling while the others glide by silently. The north wind and colder temperatures, along with the shorter days, trigger the annual move to warmer climes.

Multiple birders were watching recently when the morning skies filled with birds. The highest numbers I’m aware of were 268 common loons, 261 tundra swans and 967 double-crested cormorants. Other reports noted similar numbers, adding a few longspurs and a lone south-bound gull.

The rufous hummingbird in the Fresno area evidently is still hanging around. The cattle egret that was seen south of Millersburg may have been on the move. A golden eagle was seen well by birders in the Apple Creek area. November is the best fall month to see a golden eagle as a few of them migrate through our area.

Birders in the Cleveland area recently found at least one Pacific loon along Lake Erie. One was on the Rocky River side of Cleveland while the other sighting was east of the city. A late osprey was found at Clear Fork Reservoir, and the first snow geese recently showed up, along with a late barn swallow. I haven’t heard of any cave swallow reports, but November is the right time for this rarity.

This week I have been reading about mockingbirds, thrashers and thrushes. It started with reports that a blue mockingbird was found at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. The blue mockingbird is an endemic Mexican bird. There have been other U.S. sightings, but this is a very rare bird. I have seen blue mockingbirds in Mexico, and for some reason this became one of my favorite birds.

I also am reminded of another dark bird in the family: the black catbird of the Yucatan region. The only one we have ever seen was in Belize, where it skulked among the mangroves of a small island.

“The Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume 10” includes 50 pages of text and photos describing the family Mimidae: mockingbirds, catbirds and thrashers. There are 34 species in this family, and all of them are found in the western hemisphere. This is a relatively small family compared with Turdidae: the thrushes, which includes 336 species found almost everywhere in the world.

Blue mockingbird has only one close relative: the blue-and-white mockingbird, a beautiful bird found in Southern Mexico and south into Guatemala and Northern El Salvador. Northern mockingbird is a widespread representative of the family, found over a large part of the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean. Further south it is replaced by the similar tropical mockingbird.

There has been a lot of discussion and research about the relationship of thrashers and mockingbirds to the thrush family and to the wrens. Recent thinking now places these families further apart, with Mimidae probably closer related to the starlings, Old World babblers, some African larks and especially South American earthcreepers.

If all goes well, we may head toward Southern Arizona in late December. The route does take us through Southern New Mexico. Maybe the blue mockingbird will decide to stay there for the winter.

Good birding.

Bruce Glick can be emailed at bglick2@gmail.com.

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