Fall Migrants

A first winter Chestnut-sided warbler comes into view for a moment to perch on a nearby plant.

September 26, 2019 – On any morning this time of the year the subtle seasonal changes seem to bring, to those who are willing to show patients and perseverance while keeping a watchful eye, an exciting surprise of another species or two of warbler that can be noted, as those little fall migrants work their way south. A wooded area with brushy, dark-shadowy cover that is loosely bordered with well seeded weedy plants and an abundance of insects that live among them, can appear almost void of any birds except for those resident feathery inhabitants that have been there all summer. But during the night things can change quickly as new arrivals, from the north, find a place to rest and recharge or wait for better weather. Through the dim morning light in the thick dark green and black understory a sudden movement with a flash of color catches ones eye, there are a small number of male and female American redstarts that have just arrived. Working their way through the thicket vanishing at times, they would quickly reappear checking each leaf and branch for insects with a quickness and a gentle fairy-like lightness as one of the little birds would hover in mid-air to get a better vantage of the underside of a leaf. In the fork of a tree where it is clearly wet with sap, a few Tennessee warblers are clinging from different angles while feeding on the insects in and around the wet spot. In the nearby elm, higher up in the canopy, adult Bay-breasted and first winter Chestnut-sided warblers move from leaf to leaf looking for insects. The adult Bay-breasted male, now in his non-breeding plumage, still shows the glorious rufous color on his flanks. Common yellow-throat and Magnolia warblers unexpectedly pop into view on the sunny side of the thicket only to disappear within seconds. The fall migration of warblers can be just as exciting as the highly anticipated spring migration and well worth keeping an eye on those woody areas and green spaces in the parks and along the creeks and rivers.

A Nashville warbler stands out with its’ bright yellow color in the dim light.

Superior Mirage

Fata Morgana Superior Mirage

Superior Mirage reflected distortions.

 

April 17, 2017 – On the morning of April 17, 2017 in Iroquois County a few miles south of the Kankakee county line I saw something that I have never witnessed before. On the horizon to the south and southwest there looked to be many buildings, a vast metropolis that looked like some mythical city or a wall stretching out across the landscape rising maybe 10 degrees off the horizon. There before me was the most distorted, stretched out inverted mess I have ever seen. Some barns had peaks that seemed to rise up higher than the barn was tall. One cupola looked so stretched out on the peak of the building that it seemed to be reaching upwards like a cathedral spire.

Superior Mirage Fata Morgana

Superior Mirage

 

The normally flat prairie looked to have a long tall bluff with some rolling hills and a dense forest and some oddly shaped structures that made no sense. One could have perhaps imagined that this must have been what the edge of the ice sheet looked like thousands of years ago. What I was actually seeing was an optical phenomenon called a superior mirage or Fata Morgana mirage. This is a more rare type of the mirage phenomenon caused by a temperature inversion, warmer temperatures above cooler temperature with the light being refracted or bent as it passes through layers of varied air temperatures which causes a view of reflected distortions with the stretching of objects.

Superior Mirage

Superior Mirage reflected distortions.

The Fata Morgana has a history in sailing lore with stories of ghost ships, uncharted land masses that don’t exist, phantom islands and floating cities. The haunted visions of early mariners and the sudden appearance of a city that is miles away coming into view and seen by hundreds are recorded events that inspire the imagination and I feel very lucky to have witnessed a superior mirage that held me spellbound for a time on that morning of the 17th.