There’s a difference though. That first robin in spring has just returned after spending winter farther south. The last robin on the lawn in summer has just moved to a woods somewhere in the area. There it has joined other robins in a loose flock. They won’t leave to go south for another month or two.
Red-winged blackbirds are gone during the day from the marshes where they nested. They’ve deserted their nesting territories in the fields too.
They’ve gather in flocks, like robins. But redwing flocks are segregated, males and females in separate flocks and instead of going to woods they drift about open fields feeding in corn or on grain that was dropped during harvest. At dusk they return to the marshes, males together, females together but not in the same marsh, where they roost in the cattails through the night, then leave at dawn.
The time of mating, nesting and raising young is over this year for most birds though not goldfinches and mourning doves. Gold-finches don’t begin to nest until mid-summer, not until thistles begin to go to seed. Then they use the down plumes of thistle seeds in their nests. Mourning doves nest early and late. Sometimes a female mourning dove will produce four or even five broods in one summer.
Young birds are also a sign of the passing season. Spot-breasted robins, male redwings that are streaked, not solid black, cardinals that are washed out, even more pale than adult females, and their bills are dusky, dirty looking, starlings that are spotted, and birds with stubby tails, those are young birds, fledglings of the year and they all indicate that summer is passing, that the hot weather we’ve been enduring and complaining about will be over in a few weeks at most.
Swallows lined up on a wire are another indication of the passing season. Earlier, swirling about in the air, they were catching insects, food, for nestlings as well as themselves. Now the young birds are out of the nests, catching insects for themselves. When they’ve had enough, adults and young perch on power and telephone lines. There may be dozens, even hundreds, side by side on a wire.
When birds leave their nesting territories they stop singing, too. The robins in the woods merely chirp at each other, the redwings in the fields and going to roost at night chatter but their ok-a-lees, so common across the countryside two months ago, are gone. Occasionally a cardinal still whistles its song but gets no response from other cardinals. More common now than the songs of birds are the buzzing calls of cicadas.
Some birders, and I’ve been one of them, regard this, late summer and early fall, as an uninteresting time for bird watching. No migrants. Birds aren’t displaying, mating, nesting, raising young except goldfinches and a few mourning doves. But there are migrants, some shorebirds are flocking and drifting south. Robins and red-winged blackbirds, ducks and geese and many other birds are flocking. There are young birds to identify.
Bird activities aren’t as easy to observe as in spring and earlier in the summer but they are interesting. And there are always dates of last sighting to be determined and recorded.