Fall Migration [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Fall Migration

10-12-2004, 05:19 PM
For the most part it's safe to assume that everyone reading this post is very well aware of the migratory nature of our favorite gamefish. Indeed this is the time of year many of us look forward to with enthusiasm. It is an awe inspiring thing to contemplate the long distances traveled every season by our chosen quarry.

This got me thinking while standing on a wind blown jetty mindlessly casting casting casting. I started observing my surroundings and thinking about migration.

First I noticed the Monarchs. Every school kid knows the amazing story of the Monarch migration. How many I wondered had ever been to southern Rhode Island in the fall and actually observed the steady stream of butterflies moving along the shore line? Or the bushes on cold October mornings which appear to be covered by late season orange flowers but are actually burdened with roosting butterflies? What an amazing concept to consider those tiny, weightless, fragile creatures flying down our coast, across LI sound from Watch Hill to Montauk, down the Jersey shore, across another big stretch of water from Cape May to Deleware and then turning southwest towards Mexico!

After the monarchs I started noticing other butterflies following the coast. Everyone knows about the monarchs but very few are aware that Buckeyes and Painted Ladies [among others] also migrate, albeit not as far nor as dramatically as the monarchs. I saw both species from the jetty this weekend as well as sulphers and an unidentified smaller orange butterfly all diligently following the coast line south.

Once I got into lepedptera mode, I started noticing odd looking brown moths resting on the jetty rocks, sometimes barely above the reach of the salt spray. Obviously granite boulders were not their natural habitat and it's doubtful rockweed is their natural diet. What I was observing was an unknown [to me] species of migratory moth which were following the example of their larger brighter colored cousins and using the shore line to guide them south. Presumably they do their migrating at night and the jetty rocks sticking out from shore made convenient resting stops.

The butterflies and moths were not the only insects making long voyages. One chilly morning I took a walk along Fire District Beach hunting for feeding fish. At one point I climbed over the dunes behind the beach. As soon as I got behind the wind break of the dunes, thousands and thousands of dragonflies rose up sluggishly from the damp grass and milled aimlessly in the sun beams trying to warm up. I realized these too were in the process of migrating and had stopped for the night in the shelter of the dunes. Having become aware of them, I saw them constantly all weekend long streaming by me on the end of the jetty. They has always been there, I just wasn't seeing them before.

The birds of course are the most famous migrants and I saw plenty of those as well. Numerous specimens of various species of little shore birds were visible everywhere feeding and resting for the their long trips, some as far as Argentina!
At some point some subtle signal caused to me to look up and see, far far above, almost too high to notice, a flock of snow geese gleaming brilliant white in the sunshine. Interestingly, the ONLY snow geese I have ever seen in my life have all bbeen seen in southern Rhode Island, in October and always seen flying very high. I don't even know if they ever stop there or only pass over.

My personal favorites of the migrating birds are the warblers. The average fisherman never notices but at this time of year, millions of warblers and sparrows and other small birds migrate right through our area. Why don't they notice them if there are so many? Probably because they migrate at night. Still, that's no excuse for not noticing them. It amazes me that no one seems to hear the warblers at night. One of my favorite seasonal rights of passage is to stand on the beach on a dark night and listen to the warblers flying over. I guess most people block out the sound as background noise or maybe believe what they hear are crickets or other bugs. Trust me on this. For the next few weeks, if you find yourself on a dark beach or jetty, or even in your backyard at night, listen for the warblers. It's low and subtle, but once you become aware of it, you'll be amazed that you never noticed all the chirping and peeping that goes on in the sky all night at this time of year.

The other reason most people don't notice the migrating warblers is because during the day they [the birds] are all hunkered down in the deepest, thickest, densest cover they can find. Why? Probably for the same reason that they migrate at night. That reason being that the little birds' most feared enemies are also on the move at this time of year. Sunday afternoon in the parking lot at Weekapoug I noticed what sounded like a good sized animal rummaging around in the leaves within a very thick tangle of brush. This was a wild rose thorn bush which seemed too tight for anything bigger than a mouse. Yet as I watched, a whole flock of small birds burst from the cover and bolted for the next patch. Right behind them, walking on the ground like a chicken, was a Coopers hawk. The hawk could barely force his way through the brush on foot, flying in the tangle would have been impossible. Normally prefering to take his prey on the wing, apparently this hungrey preditor became frustrated with his quarry's refusal to fly and tried to flush them out. It didn't work for him that time.

These were some of the more noticable critters migrating this weekend. There were other animals on the move which were migrating but not necessarily south. I watched a steady stream of small fish moving into or out the breachway with the tides. Some, like the three spined sticklebacks and the sheepshead minnows were dropping out of the salt ponds and estuaries to head for deeper water to spend the winter. Others, like the rare blackback [winter] flounder I saw while snorkling were returning to the pond after spending the breeding season off shore.

Isn't it amazing what is going on around us while we stand on wet rocks and silently pray for just one stupid tuna to take our fly? A fisherman is limited to his appreciation for the fish. A fisherman who is obsessed with only hooking a certain species of fish might have concluded that I had an unsuccessful trip this weekend. From my point of view I had an awesome weekend!

So what did you see on the water?

10-12-2004, 05:53 PM
Excellent post Mike.

10-12-2004, 11:43 PM
These are the reasons I so enjoy your company. You keep on increasing my awareness.

10-13-2004, 04:26 AM
Mike you are truly in tune with nature. Great report. I have always said it's the whole experience that makes fishing so worth while. FishHawk :D

10-13-2004, 07:12 AM
:) Here is a picture I hope of Mike Z. I took it in 1999. Mike is a nature lover from away back. When it comes to nature there is not much that Mike hasn't noticed. He opened my eyes up on the different species of tropical fish that are found along the coast during the summer months. Mike excellent story.

10-13-2004, 09:31 AM
Awesome post, really enjoyed reading it. Should go to the articles section!


10-13-2004, 12:11 PM
Great read, Thanks

10-13-2004, 12:32 PM
Awesome post Mike. I agree it should be saved somewhere more permanent. I see the makings of a shore anglers guide. Hopefully the seas will behave this weekend and we can get some night missions in.


Dble Haul
10-13-2004, 12:36 PM
What a great read.

I'm usually so mesmerized by the fishing that these types of things just go unnoticed. I'll be paying more attention now for sure. :)

10-14-2004, 02:34 PM

What a wonderful post, truely wondeful! That's what makes being outdoors be it fishing or just walking a beach so wonderful. The beauty of such observations is the state of being one obtains. I recently read an article on those who see such things and why. The article said that more people who use the right side of their brain are apt to notice such things and be more interested in such observations.

So I guess if your one of those lucky people who can spot a school of poogies 2 mile off in an east chop you very well may be right brained.

Thanks for the great post I really enjoyed reading it and brought back memories of Fall days in New England :smile: .

10-14-2004, 03:08 PM
Thanks Mike... very informative and enjoyable and a great post for this forum...

10-15-2004, 09:15 AM
As has been already stated a very fine post and thank you for sharing. I too have always had a love for everything outdoors and always find myself looking and stopping to observe things most others don't. I noticed this morning while down at my local beach/harbor that there were several Great Blue Herons wading about just waiting for an unsuspecting baitfish to swim by. I have also noticed an increase in the shore bird/Duck migration on the salt pond behind the house, always around this time of year the eiders and other types of winter over ducks start to show up. I have also witnessed large flocks of Snow Geese hanging out on the beach here in Milford, CT. while on their way south. They also sometimes winter over here but mostly stop to rest and move on in a day or two. Also noticed the Ospreys have vacated their summer nesting site on the pond, I suppose that the hatchlings all survived and have moved on to warmer climates for the winter, although I have seen a few Ospreys diving on the huge adult menhaden schools that have taken up residence in the harbor area. Funny you should mention the warblers, I have noticed recently a sharp increase in the birds singing in the evening, many I did not recognize but one I did which was the Black Capped Chickadee which is a winter time resident around here and not really noticable in the summer. And one of the best things I have noticed gone are the mosquitos, only have seen a couple while washing the boat the other day, earlier I could not even unhook the trailer without being swarmed by them, there is a plus side to the falling temps as it kills off the population of biting pests. Really enjoyed the post and I can totally relate to your observations, I too am a student of nature and spend much time educating myself on things related to the outdoors especially when I see something new.

Mike M.

10-15-2004, 10:19 AM
Very cool post, very Zen.
I did a word search of this thread for "light" and none came up. For me the biggest thing is the fall light. Low angles, clear shafts or beams over North Shore foliage around the coves. It's just blows me away sometimes! The colors man!


10-15-2004, 12:25 PM
Thanks for the kind words guys, glad you liked the post. I hope you'll notice some of the things I mentioned and enjoy it as much as I do.
I have my Dad to thank for always taking the time to point out the less noticable aspects of the natural world and explaining them when he could or encouraging me to seek the answers he couldn't give. It is a primary goal of mine to pass the same to my three boys.
One practical benifit in observing and enjoying all aspects of nature is that no matter where you go afield or why, you can never be skunked. Whether it's a bird or butterfly or even a skunk foraging in a suburban trash can, you can always feel a part of nature and be assured you are enjoying part of God's Creation that all too many people, even "outdoorsmen", never notice or appreceate.

I know what you mean about the Fall lighting Lefty. As an amature photographer I'm well in tune with the best light and have been known to set up my tripod well before dusk or dawn in order to catch the few minutes of prime lighting that follow. No doubt the low angle, clear air and bright colors of Fall provide the best light of all. Just another reason why standing on a jetty in October is one of my all time favorite things in life, regardless of how the fish treat me.

10-15-2004, 02:20 PM
I totally agree! The fall leaves with the light of sunset and rise are amazing this time of year. I find myself drifting in my yak forgetting about fishing all too often! I'm seriously considering purchasing a good camera because my point and shoot just doesn't do it justice all the time!


10-15-2004, 03:44 PM
While vision is in the eyes, "seeing" is in the mind. I sure enjoyed seeing all those things you pointed out, right here at my 'puter! Can't wait to get to the water again, thanks for the inspiration.