University of Dallas Birding – Late Migrants

by Christian Walker on November 5, 2010

The life of a college student is rather hectic. There are classes to take, tests to study for, and papers to write. On a cold blustery Wednesday this past week, however, I was grabbing a quick lunch in the cafeteria when I looked outside. There was a flock of cormorants flying over, as well as five different raptors – an accipiter and four buteos. I ditched my pitiful lunch and ran down to my dorm for my binoculars. At first I didn’t see much, and my cold ears and fingers made me start to regret this hasty, ill-advised decision. I had school to do, and an essay to worry about, and – hawks! A Red-shouldered Hawk was straight above me, its wing-windows proclaiming its identification, as two of the local Red-tailed Hawks rode the twenty miles per hour wind off to the north. During the next forty minutes, I saw ten different Red-taileds – including a beautiful dark-morph Western that went over barely sixty feet up. A Cooper’s Hawk and multiple Turkey Vultures flew over, as well as several magnificent flocks of low-flying American White Pelicans.

I usually see Franklin’s Gulls flying north in the spring, so I was surprised and excited when I spotted a loose swirling flock of them, just like a flock I had seen a day or two before. They were totally silent, unlike the vocal spring birds, and their high, loose flock formation was very different from the low, tightly formatted ranks of northbound Franklin’s I see in April and May. I had never seen a flock like this in the fall before, and I was curious – do Franklin’s Gulls always migrate south in flocks like these? Are they as common in Central/North-Central Texas as they are in the spring, and are just overlooked because they aren’t calling? Was this a late date for such a large flock, or was it in the midst of their migration? I wanted to find out the answers to these questions for myself.

Afterwards, as I sat down and began to pretend to read, I considered the joy of experiencing these incidental, almost accidental observations. If I had been facing the other way at the lunch table, I never would have seen those birds, and would have been a bit more on top of my schoolwork. My forty minutes of sweet truancy was certainly worth it, however; I plan to get back out and bird around campus as much as I can. No matter how short a time I spend birding, there is always something to be found, whether it is a newly arrived winter bird, a late migrant, or an observation that could be the beginning of an answer to the countless questions we have about the birds around us.

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