Autumn is a time where it is possible to observe many wildlife spectacles and phenomena. Your wildlife garden plays a crucial role in autumn to help make migration successful for so many different species of wildlife. So grab your binoculars and your camera and get ready for the show!
You will begin to observe many of these exciting happenings in your wildlife garden, and there are also areas quite near your home where you can learn more about butterfly migration, songbird migration, hawk and eagle migration, and so much more.
You may have noticed that you’re seeing loads of Monarch Butterflies in your wildlife garden in recent days. In fact, I watched quite a few Monarchs in my habitat garden just this morning.
Why are there so many Monarchs all of the sudden?
Monarch Butterflies make an amazing migration every year, from the most northern parts of the country to a few small forested areas in Mexico, where they will spend the winter as adult butterflies and then head back north in the spring.
For a full description of this, check out Benjamin Vogt’s short book, Monarch Butterflies: The Last Migration, which describes the peril the Monarchs face both here in the US as well as in their wintering grounds and gives a great description of what you can do to help.
One of the best places to observe the Monarch migration, as well as all of these other amazing wildlife spectacles this fall is Cape May, NJ, where in late September you could potentially see thousands of Monarch heading south along the dunes.
For more information about the Monarch migration in Cape May, please check out the Monarch Monitoring Project to stay up to date about the best time to visit to observe this amazing sight.
Only Monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains head to Mexico for the winter. If you live west of the Rockies, the Monarchs spend the winter in select places in California.
Other butterflies migrate as well, albeit for shorter distances.
One of my favorite sights is to walk behind the dunes at Cape May Point State park and observe thousands of Buckeye butterflies mixed with thousands of Monarchs all drinking hungrily from the Seaside Goldenrod to fortify themselves for the next leg of their journey.
Painted Lady and their cousins, American Lady butterflies also migrate south in the autumn, and you may observe many of them filling up on nectar in your wildlife garden. In fact, Pat Sutton has just witnessed an “explosion” of Painted Ladies in her wildlife garden just this week.
Another short distance migrant is the Red Admiral butterfly. The Red Admiral made news across the country this past spring as huge numbers of migrants were observed all across the country, sparking attention from nature lovers, but also from loads of people who had never paid attention to natural phenomena before.
Check out Life Cycles of Butterflies: From Egg to Maturity by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards
Peak migration for huge flocks of Purple Martins has already passed. In fact, I had the honor of witnessing the last large gathering of Purple Martins last weekend while I was in Cape May. The next night only a few stragglers remained.
If you stand outside at night and listen carefully, you will hear lots of small “chipping” sounds as flocks of migratory songbirds pass overhead. Several amazing birders have honed their skill in identifying these flight calls and can identify and count passing birds in the nighttime darkness based solely on these calls.
One of these accomplished birders is Michael O’Brien of Cape May, NJ, whose skill is described in the book Songbird Journeys: Four Seasons in the Lives of Migratory Birds, by Miyoko Chu
One of the most well-known wildlife spectacles of the autumn is the migration of hawks, eagles, and other raptors. Even non-birders flock to migration hotspots around the country to observe huge flights of raptors passing overhead in the daytime sky.
While it may seem impossible to identify these birds at incredible distances, careful attention to details of flight and behavior will make this a relatively easy task. One of the best resources to make this easier for you is the newly released second edition of Hawks in Flight by Clay Sutton, David Sibley, and Pete Dunne.
Cape May, NJ is world renowned for its amazing hawk migration, and a day spent standing on the hawk watch platform at Cape May Point State Park will make you feel like an expert as you learn from the many birders who gather there each fall.
My favorite place to observe the raptor migration, though is another world famous spot here in Pennsylvania, Hawk Mountain, where some days hundreds of thousands of hawks will pass quite close above your head if you’ve made the climb up the mountain to the North Lookout.
One of the great joys of my life is to have made the trip to Veracruz, Mexico to witness the phenomenon that is the River of Raptors, where due to the effects of geography all of the migrating raptors pass through a very narrow band of land. You can stand on the rooftop of the Hotel Bienvenido in Cardel and watch the largest flight of raptors in the world.
What Are You Observing in Your Autumn Wildlife Garden?
Have you noticed any of these spectacles in your own wildlife garden? Where is your favorite place to go in your area to watch the miracle of autumn migration?
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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