When fall hits, Nature trades in her summer decor for rich, autumnal color. The weather changes and plants and animals all change their habits. It’s in the migration of many bird species that you really see Nature changing her linens. And Victor Emanuel knows those linens better than most. His 30-year-old, Austin-based bird touring company is the largest of its kind in the world, hitting more than 100 locations around the world (on every continent). He’s talked birds with Indian royalty, film directors, world-famous authors, and former President George W. Bush. So I asked him to give us a few hints on where to look, and when, and for what.
1. Migrations are bird bar crawls. Whichever way they’re traveling, birds tend to go from one watering hole to the next. So rivers, streams, and even the backyard ponds are ideal spots for birding. Expect Baltimore orioles to make use of your hummingbird feeders on their way to South America.
2. Birds vacation better than you do. “It’s very cool to know that the nighthawks that have been hanging around here all summer are going to Argentina,” he said. And: “If you’re alert, you may see a hundred to five hundred white pelicans circling and on their way to the Texas coast.”
3. Three fall thrusts: summering birds start their trips out in August, migrating birds pass through during September, and wintering birds, including ducks, sandhill cranes, and white pelicans, roll in from October to December. “October will be dynamic for ducks.” Look for redheads and canvasbacks.
4. Chimney swifts breed in San Antonio. Watch for them to start making for the Amazon as soon as October 1.
5. Nothing is wasted. Even waste. The two best places to see birds in the region are at Mitchell Lake Audubon Center in San Antonio (tx/audubon.org/Mitchell.html), where the city of San Antonio used to discharge its sewage, and Austin’s Hornsby Bend (hornsbybend.org), where Austin still does (treating in settling ponds and making fertilizer from it). Both are wetland habitats, home to “all kinds of water birds, pelicans and ducks.” Given the dry summer, though, Emanuel says this fall there will be birds showing up anywhere there’s water. Pretty much, that rules out the Hill Country.
6. Emanuel’s favorite bird is the warbler. He’s crazy for ‘em. And there are a bunch of types. “Last weekend, there were 15 kinds of warblers in Hornsby Bend. It was wonderful.”
7. Watch the winds. Any time there’s a front coming through, the birds are on it. “They ride the wind, the wind is from the northwest, and that gives them a little bit of a push.”
For other birding tips...
Texas Audubon (tx.audubon.org)
Texas Parks & Wildlife (tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wildlife/wildlife-trails)
Texas Ornithological Society (texasbirds.org)