Fall birding is my favourite time for a variety of reasons. First of all, it’s fall. Fall is the greatest season. Secondly, there are progressively fewer leaves on the trees, so it becomes easier to see the birds; lastly, fall (and spring) are high traffic times for migrating birds. Out with the old, in with the new.
Migration offers birds that are only passing through and every once in a while you’ll catch sight of a bird that shouldn’t be here at all.
You and that bird will make very awkward eye contact.
Like the time I saw a lone Chukar standing in the middle of the road in Calgary right at the beginning of fall. I stopped my truck, chased it off the road and then just stared at it in utter confusion. I had never seen a Chukar before and I was trying to memorize details to look it up later; what I discovered is that they are not native to this region whatsoever. They are permanent residents of mid-western USA and the closest they usually travel to where I saw one is in the rocky mountains of Montana. That bird – which also lives in flocks – was alone, 1500km away from where they normally live.
Seeing birds that are outside of their usual jurisdiction isn’t reserved exclusively for times of migration but it does happen a little more frequently as birds occasionally lose their course. Which is terrible for them but so great for bird watchers.
Fall also gives you a chance to get some practice in when it comes to distinguishing adults from juveniles. I once tried summarizing what to look for when figuring out which is which but it varies too widely between species to make any clear cut rules about it that encompass all birds. The only one that I could sort of come up with is that juveniles generally look scruffier than adults.
Spring is usually the best time to identify birds because the flocks have been thinned by the cold, capricious fist of winter and all the birds that made it are out in all of their handsome breeding plumage.
Autumn leaves us with adult birds who are no longer in breeding plumage and juveniles who barely have all their adult feathers. This makes identifying them correctly a little bit more tricky because we’re left with unreliable markers and basically every bird is brown.
This is a great opportunity to sharpen your perception of birds. Along with the occasional treat of a surprise migrant combined with the stunning colours of fall make birding in autumn one of my absolute favourite times to bird.