Birder’s Almanac – November

Not surprisingly, wader numbers decline sharply in November, as lingering egrets abandon the ice-skimmed wetlands to hardier great blue herons. The tardier of the migrant songbirds are mostly gone by mid-month. Shorebirds are exceptional in November, nearly all of them along the Lake Erie shore. They normally include a flock of long-billed dowitchers, shrinking throngs of dunlins, and a scattering of sanderlings and yellowlegs; red phalaropes and purple sandpipers are the only November specialists among them, and they are hardly common. A few terns may linger, but gull variety is at its peak, with the arrival of the first wintering northern gulls and the presence of the scarcer migrants; jaegers, scarce as they may be, are also at their best time. Blackbird flocks normally peak now, sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands.

Fewer puddle ducks remain, but hardier diving ducks splash down in large numbers, making November probably our most diverse month for waterfowl. Immense flocks of red-breasted mergansers appear over Lake Erie, where most of the world’s population winters as long as the water remains unfrozen. By late in the month, the big marshes may have often frozen, forcing a lot of waterfowl south.

Wintering longspurs, snow buntings, and larks can be found in fields, along with rough-legged hawks, harriers, and short-eared owls, where northern shrikes join them by mid-month. This is the best time to see migrant golden eagles, and snowy owls, if they are destined to visit, first show up now, along with more reliable long-eared and saw-whet owls. By mid-month the only warbler staying with us is the yellow-rumped, and the migrant sparrows are gone, leaving winter-visitant juncos with white-crowned, white-throated, and American tree sparrows alongside resident song, field, swamp sparrows, a few towhees, and more rarely fox and savannah sparrows. Winter finches, if they are to appear in any numbers, become apparent in November, and the stage is set for the cold season.

—Bill Whan

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