The mist was rising as we pulled into the Horton Grove parking lot. It was just after 7:30 a.m., the sun had only been up for half an hour, and it cast beautiful slanted light across the preserve’s Piedmont prairie.
My friend and I were there not only to enjoy the beautiful scenery, but also to look for migrating songbirds. While all migrators are fun to see, we were particularly interested in the tiny, brightly colored warblers, Neotropical migrants that fly from central and South America to as far as Canada in the summertime.
Horton Grove Nature Preserve provides excellent birding grounds, covering both prairie and woodland habitat types. We tried the woods first, following the trail along the edge of the prairie. The light was much lower amidst the trees, setting off the greens of the leaves that were just barely turning their fall colors. Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice were noisily buzzing back and forth at each other, but they were too high in the canopy for us to actually see.
While the woods were beautiful, we were still interested in seeing more birds. Deciding to try the meadows, we headed across the treeline and walked along the mowed path between the woods on our left and the tall grass on our right. The sun was higher now, illuminating the dewdrops on intricate spiderwebs and the leaves and stems of the grasses themselves. Everything seemed awash in gold, and for a few moments we stood with our eyes closed and faces to the sun. Mornings are peaceful, aren’t they?
We had only walked a few dozen feet when we had some great bird luck. Flocking on some short conifer and deciduous trees were male and female Common Yellowthroats, some of my favorite warblers! The males have yellow bodies and distinct black masks across their eyes, while the females are bright yellow on their tummies, but a dull olive-green/brown on their heads and backs.
Common Yellowthroats are curious, and they flew right up to us to take a look, providing an excellent photo opportunity. While the males stayed in the brush, one female alighted on a branch right over my shoulder, and we stared at each other with only a few feet of space between us.
Eventually the yellowthroats tired of us and moved on, and we walked the mowed trail to the center of Horton Grove’s Piedmont prairie. The air was warm now, and birds much more active. Brown Thrashers chased each other around treetops, while iconic Eastern Bluebirds flew across the fields. Woodpeckers pounded in the distance, and all the birds sang over each other.
I could have stayed the rest of the day, but eventually we had to head back to the car to make it to our graduate classes on time. Fall migration is brief, and Horton Grove is a great place to experience some of the magic!
Whether you’re an expert birder or an eager novice, you’re invited to join TLC’s Bo Howes for a birding walk at Horton Grove on November 12th starting at 8am. And please let us know if you have had any recent luck birding at one of TLC’s preserves. We’d love to hear your stories and see your photos!