This pop-up pit stop serves bugs
An immature female Cape May warbler wears her delicate gray color and blurry streaks beautifully. (Cori Brown photo)

The sultry weather is still with us.

Days and days of humidity, clouds and rain make me feel like I’ve moved to Seattle.


I’ve only been there once and my favorite memory was the Pike Place Market. Of course, the market is well known for its fish tossing vendors (as in tossing 3-foot-long salmon instead of passing them hand to hand). It’s a much more delightful memory to hold compared to their gloomy weather.

I’m wondering when we’re going to get a break from our own grumpy weather. It’s putting a damper on a lot of things. One thing it does not seem to be tamping down though is the bug population.

Is it my imagination or do we seem to have an explosion of mosquitos, wasps, yellow jackets and other not-so-friendly types of stinging and biting insects?

My poor neighbors have had their hands full with three visits and counting from a pest control company to exterminate yellow jackets invading their house.

I’m convinced some of these same renegades have moved over to our house. I feel like a cowgirl as I whip out my trusty jet stream insect spray to zap these wise guys. Everybody scatters from the shootout at the Brown corral.

My parting words — adios, and definitely don’t come back!

In the meantime, loyal light foot Navi and I still slog through the thick-as-a-wet-mattress weather nearly every day in search of a silver lining for this abysmal weather.

In return, we get smacked in our faces time and time again with sticky stealth spider webs, some stretching for several feet from tree to tree. It’s the stuff of nightmares, which makes it obvious why spiders are so well represented at Halloween.

In truth, there is a silver lining out there. It’s birds migrating south for the winter and stopping in our backyard for a bite or two to eat before moving on.

This male Cape May warbler dons his springtime outfit of chestnut cheeks and a bright yellow collar.
This male Cape May warbler dons his springtime outfit of chestnut cheeks and a bright yellow collar. (Cory Brown photo)

I like to think of their fly-throughs like your kids doing the eat and run routine on their way to soccer practice.

If you are as lucky as I am, I get a few days every fall when Cape May warblers take up temporary residence in our Chinese elm tree and gorge themselves on copious amounts of insects.

I bow down to the warbler gods when I get my first glimpse of them. Not only are they beautiful birds to watch, but their chow down routine is like watching a ballet as they pirouette from limb to limb snatching food.

Their favorite item on the menu: gnats. Literally thousands of gnats swarm all over the tree trunk on warm September days. While gnats are at the top of the list, they are open to other delicacies, too, like wasps, flies, ants, bees, moths, beetles, leafhoppers, and (hallelujah) spiders.

My insect nightmare prayers have been answered!


Despite the fact that the insects way outnumber the birds, these warblers are happy campers. Our Chinese elm is like a fueling station on their GPS. They need every bit of that fuel to fly more than 1,200 miles to their winter destination in the West Indies. Once there, they continue to eat insects but also use their unique tubular tongues to sip nectar and berry juice.

The surprising thing is that I’ve only noticed this timeless ritual for the last three years. I have no doubt that the warblers have been making their pit stop at this tree for much longer.

It could be that I was so distracted by the gnats buzzing around my head that I didn’t notice the birds (a bit like not being able to see the forest for the trees).

Clouds of gnats descending on you tend to do this.

Dressed down for fall, this male Cape May warbler is still quite handsome.
Dressed down for fall, this male Cape May warbler is still quite handsome. (Cori Brown photo)

Winter plumage could be another reason. By fall, the males replace deeply intense yellow neck collars, chestnut cheeks and bold black stripes on their yellow breasts for a much paler palette. Females are pale year-round compared to the males.

Having seen the males in their spring breeding plumage for the first time this past May makes me appreciate much more the subtle fall changes that allow them to blend in so well with the trees. It helps, too, that I am finally much more attuned to these seasonal changes.

Every season has its promises. Autumn is no exception. No doubt we are all looking forward to cooler temperatures, less humidity, less rain, brightly colored crunchy leaves and fewer bugs.

Though I will miss the warblers and all the other birds migrating south, I know it’s only a temporary adieu. Come spring, they will deliver on their promise to return and start the cycle anew.

In the meantime, I will thoroughly enjoy watching them feast at our popup pit stop and wish them a safe journey until we meet again.