Dan Gomola Wildlife Photography | Autumn Birds of Pennsylvania

Autumn Birds of Pennsylvania

October 08, 2016  •  2 Comments

I'm sitting here on a dark, rainy autumn morning wishing it was brighter outside because I'm missing a Saturday morning of bird photography during the fall migration.  Sure, spring migration is pretty exciting because of all the colorful little birds flitting around on their journey to their summer breeding grounds but fall migration can be really good too. 

Most of the birds have non-breeding plumage making them a challenge to identify.  Some birds, like the Hooded Warbler, don't change much at all.  Other birds, like the Scarlet Tanager, become almost unrecognizable.  Most birds, however, have the same colors and markings but they are somewhat faded.

An example of the latter is a Prairie Warbler who lost most of his black identification marks.

Praire WarblerPraire Warbler


Another challenge in the fall is identifying juvenile birds which can look much different than the adults.  Below is a juvenile Eastern Towhee which I'm guessing is a young male based on the black wing coloration.

Eastern TowheeEastern TowheeImmature Male


Another young bird I found was this Brown Thrasher.

Brown ThrasherBrown ThrasherJuvenile


I had a lot of discussion with birders, most more knowledgeable than I, about the identification of this bird.  It's definitely a flycatcher.  The question was if it is a Willow Flycatcher or an Alder Flycatcher.  I was told it is impossible to differentiate between the two unless you hear their song.  Well, hearing the song still wouldn't help me.  I chose to identify this bird as a Willow Flycatcher because that is the one most likely found in our area right now.

Willow FlycatcherWillow Flycatcher


The next photo is a female or immature male Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Rose-breasted GrosbeakRose-breasted GrosbeakFemale or Immature Male


This male Indigo Bunting is still singing.

Indigo BuntingIndigo BuntingMale


Some birds' feathers are so smooth you can't tell where one begins and the other ends.  That's not an issue with this White-eyed Vireo.

White-eyed VireoWhite-eyed Vireo


This is the time of the year that we find American Goldfinch pulling seeds from the coneflower flower heads.  Some males have began to change.  Before winter, the males will molt and take on the olive-green and gray colors of the female.

American GoldfinchAmerican GoldfinchMale


I got the attention of a Blue-headed Vireo at the edge of a forest.

Blue-headed VireoBlue-headed Vireo


This female Ruby-throated Hummingbird was flying around my garden probing the flowers for nectar.  What I found very interesting about this photo is how the flower stamen rubs pollen onto the top of her head.  She will pick up and deposit pollen at every flower she visits. It's amazing how nature works.

Ruby-throated HummingbirdRuby-throated Hummingbird


In western Pennsylvania, we have plenty of Black-capped Chickadees all year round.  They are a pretty bird and it's nice to photograph them when they are vocalizing between each other.

Black-capped ChickadeeBlack-capped Chickadee


Many people, if given an opportunity to walk through fields, woodlands, and all areas in between, probably wouldn't notice the birds along their journey.  Even the most colorful birds appear drab in color when inside the shadows of the forest canopy.  Most are so quiet that they go completely unnoticed.  The following photos are birds that you might find in that situation.  Maybe the next time you find yourself in that situation, you can stop and take a look at what you've been missing.

This beautiful Nashville Warbler looks very similar to his breeding plumage of the spring.  He will be leaving soon for his winter grounds of Mexico. Nashville WarblerNashville WarblerMale


This Blackpoll Warbler was stretching for a better view.

Blackpoll WarblerBlackpoll Warbler


Although we don't here his raspy "bee-buzz" voice, the Blue-winged Warbler is still flying around our open woodlands before heading to Central America for the winter.

Blue-winged WarblerBlue-winged WarblerMale


This Chestnut-sided Warbler stayed inside the shrubs searching for insects.

Chestnut-sided WarblerChestnut-sided Warbler


You can still see the faint strips on the chest of this Magnolia Warbler.

Magnolia WarblerMagnolia Warbler


Although fading a little, the colors of this Black-throated Green Warbler are still very prominent.

Black-throated Green WarblerBlack-throated Green Warbler


Whether its spring, summer, fall, or winter, the Hooded Warbler looks the same.  We won't find him in Pennsylvania in the winter as he will soon be on his way to Central America and Cuba.

Hooded WarblerHooded WarblerMale


The Northern Parula is one of my favorite warblers.

Northern ParulaNorthern ParulaMale


The Tennessee Warbler got its name in 1811 by Alexander Wilson who found the bird in Tennessee during migration.

Tennessee WarblerTennessee Warbler


The female American Redstart is one of the more colorful female warblers.

American RedstartAmerican RedstartFemale


During molt, the male Scarlet Tanager takes on the yellow color of a female.  While a female is all yellow, a male can be identified by his black wings.

Scarlet TanagerScarlet Tanager


The female Eastern Towhee is always interested in checking out strangers in its surroundings.

Eastern TowheeEastern TowheeFemale


In September and early October, I spend several days in Elk County, PA to photograph the American Elk rut.  Like most wildlife, they are most active in the early morning and evening.  Many people ask what I do all day.  Other than taking in the sights of the beautiful landscape, I spend time photographing birds.

I found this and several more Palm Warblers jumping from evergreen to evergreen searching for food.

Palm WarblerPalm Warbler



The photo below was a surprise find for me.  It is a male Bobolink.  In the spring, the male Bobolink is black and white with a golden patch on the back of his head as you can see in the photo to the left. 

BobolinkBobolinkMale (Non-breeding Colors)


I have to ask, how cute is this Field Sparrow?

Field SparrowField Sparrow


Another bird I found in high quantities in Elk County is the Pine Warbler.  Many Pine Warblers live year-round in the southern United States and these will soon join them.

Pine WarblerPine Warbler


Well, that's it for now.  Be sure to check back soon for photo blogs about the American Elk rut activity and then the White-tailed Deer rut activity.  It's an exciting beginning to autumn.

Thanks for looking,



Donna Mohney(non-registered)
Hate to admit it but I spent 3 days in Elk county and paid little attention to the birds! Love this post!
Melanie Tepper(non-registered)
Beautiful photos Dan! I have yet to see many of those warblers.
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