Posts Tagged ‘warblers’

Finding Fall Warblers

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Friday, September 14th, 2012

Finding Fall Warblers by Drew Weber

Finding warblers in the fall can be much trickier than finding them in the spring. Males are singing less often because they are no longer attempting to attract mates, and most of their vocalizations are difficult-to-identify chips. These chips are actually the best thing to clue in on, as they can often lead you to a feeding flock of warblers. The feeding flocks can vary in size, but when you locate one warbler there is a good chance that several others are nearby.

warblers

Black-throated Blue Warbler adult male, breeding © Arthur Morris/VIREO

The first thing to do is find some suitable habitat. Fall warblers often concentrate along the edges of woods where early morning sun is hitting the trees and warming the air, increasing the activity of insects which the warblers are seeking out. Walk along the forest edge listening carefully for chips. In addition to listening for warbler chips, pay attention to any chickadees. Warblers will often forage in a loose flock with chickadees. Since the birds aren’t vocalizing as much, take your time as you scan the area and walk slowly. Also don’t be afraid to backtrack as a small flock can emerge from the woods and forage along the edge with no warning after you passed it.

Black-capped Chickadee

Black-capped Chickadee adult, Rocky Mountain © Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO

Another habitat type you should check out for fall warblers are fields of dense goldenrod. Tennessee, Orange-crowned and Wilson’s Warblers can all be found in this type of habitat as they forage in the goldenrod. Successional habitat with a mix of smaller trees and shrubs can also provide ideal habitat for finding warbler feeding flocks.

warblers

Wilson’s Warbler adult female, Eastern © Claude Nadeau/VIREO

Looking for fall warblers can be very rewarding because of the patience it can require. It is very exciting to find a mixed flock of 6 different species of warblers and get great looks at them as they forage at eye level, rather than in the treetops as is typical in the sling. And getting a good look is important.

Fall warblers get a bad rap for being hard to identify. They also have the reputation of being less colorful than the spring warblers. There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, spring migration is a quick and hurried affair as birds race northward to stake out territorial claims to some prime breeding habitat. In all the rush, we generally only manage to see the birds that are singing…males with their distinctive bright plumage.

warblers

Cape May Warbler adult male, breeding © Adrian & Jane Binns/VIREO

In the fall, migration is a much more leisurely event. The warblers take their time and stop for days at a time to feed and replenish the reserves they require for their long flights. This gives birders a chance to see females as well as males, adding an additional plumage variation that has to be identified. Also, each successful pair of birds raised maybe 2-5 young, meaning there are now more immature birds than adults. The plumage of immature males and females are often different as well.  Generally young males look similar to adult females, while immature females are even drabber colored.

warblers

Black-throated Green Warbler immature male (1st spring) © Gerard Bailey/VIREO

This means that in the fall, a birder often needs to be familiar with at least three, and sometimes four different plumages of a bird to be able to correctly identify each warbler they see. Adult males are still mostly in their bright breeding plumage, young males and adult females are drabber and sometimes hard to differentiate, and young females are the drabbest.

warblers

Cape May Warbler immature female (1st winter) © Rob & Ann Simpson/VIREO

If you get a chance to study females and immatures closely, you will discover although their colors aren’t as gaudy as the spring males, there is still a lot of color on many of the young warblers. Young Chestnut-sided Warblers, for example, have a beautiful lime-green back.

warblers

Chestnut-sided Warbler immature female, 1st winter © Gerard Bailey/VIREO

So, are fall warblers really harder to identify? The answer is yes, but a species often shares specific characteristics between all the different plumage. Learn these shared characteristics and identification will be much easier. Spend some time getting to know the fall warblers, and I am sure you will enjoy them as much as I do.

Early Migrant Warblers

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Friday, August 31st, 2012

Early Migrant Warblers by Drew Weber

Migration may seem like it is just beginning, but some species are already moving south, and some have all but disappeared.  Some of the earliest migrants are Cerulean WarblerHooded WarblerLouisiana WaterthrushPrairie Warbler, and Worm-eating Warbler. These species were already migrating south at the end of July, heading towards their wintering grounds. These species have all but disappeared from many parts of their breeding grounds already, and have completed vacated northern parts of their range.

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler, adult male © Greg Lasley/VIREO

If you want to find these species yet this year, there is time to get out and search for them but time is slipping away. Worm-eating Warblers are on their way to Mexico and Central American, while Cerulean Warblers are heading for high quality forests in the Andes. On a trip to Costa Rica in early August several years ago, I was surprised to find a Louisiana Waterthrush chipping along a stream, looking quite at home already.

Louisiana Waterthrush Warbler

Louisiana Waterthrush, adult © Brian E. Small/VIREO

The distances these birds fly between breeding and wintering grounds is quite stunning.  The Louisiana Waterthrush that I saw in Costa Rica had just finished flying over 2,000 miles if it came from somewhere in Pennsylvania which is the central part of their range. To top it off, this 0.7 oz bird just flew across the Gulf of Mexico, possibly island-hopping from the Florida Keys thru Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico before arriving at this final destination.

Cerulean Warbler

Cerulean Warbler, adult female © Glenn Bartley/VIREO

In order to make their trip a bit easier, these long distant migrants are primarily making their flights at night when the air is more stable. Another advantage of migrating at night is that most of their predators are visual hunters and so the warblers are relatively safe at night. All night long while you are asleep, warblers and other migrants are streaming overhead, almost undetectable except for the occasional chip notes that alert us to their passing. These early migrating warblers are taking advantage of ample food supplies such as insects as they travel. A perk for us birders is that the birds then spend the day foraging to fatten up for the next leg of their journey. This makes them easier to find because they are actively moving around.

Hooded Warbler Range Map

Hooded Warbler Range Map © NatureShare

Once these birds reach their final wintering destination, they join up in mixed species flocks with other Neotropical migrants, as well as tropical species that live in Central and South America year round. In the tropics there are lush forests that have a bounty of food resources, enough for both the residents and the migrant warblers. A good question would be, “why don’t they just spend the entire year there if the food resources are so great?” The answer is that the food available to them at their breeding grounds is abundant as well, and they have likely evolved to migrate to both take advantage of these resources as well as avoid competition with the year round residents of the tropical forest.

So, the next time that you are out looking at birds and find a warbler, think about the journey that this tiny bird is about to embark on. With some good fortune, the same bird will be making the same journey back next year to nest again.

Worm-eating Warbler Range Map

Worm-eating Warbler Range Map © NatureShare

We Wike Wobblers – Yellow Warblers

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Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

They nested somewhere in the neighborhood, but I never found the location. For much of the summer, a pair of Yellow Warblers frequented my backyard birdbath. Enthused by such a bright, sprightly subject, I kept a camera with a telephoto lens near the kitchen window, hoping to photograph the warblers as they fluffed in the water or perched in the branches of a nearby stand of tall shrubbery.

Yellow Warbler © Lisa Densmore

One morning, my oldest son, then an inquisitive three year-old, scrambled up on a nearby stool as I was attempting to photograph the male.

“What’s that bird?”

“A yellow warbler.”

In a short few minutes the mustard-yellow fellow flew damply away. Clapping his pudgy hands together, the toddler perfectly summed my sentiments.

“I wike wobblers.”

For the next few years the birds, in his vocabulary, were “wobblers.” We spotted them here and there while fishing or hiking. The problem is, if you’re a fan of warblers, south-central Montana is just about the worst place in the country to live. Yellow Warblers are sighted with some regularity, and I’ve rarely seen other members of the warbler family including Common Yellowthroats, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. According the field guides, we’re also potentially within or near the range of MacGillivray’s Warblers, Ovenbirds, Yellow-breasted Chats and American Redstarts. But I have never clearly observed any of those species. Of the 50+ warbler species inhabiting North America, my area seems to infrequently hold but two or three.

But I’ll keep looking. So will the rest of my family. We wike wobblers.

Yard List Hits 100!

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Thursday, May 24th, 2012
Nashville Warbler Birds

Nashville Warbler by Josh Haas

After expanding our property last year with the acquisition of more land I could hardly wait for spring 2012 to come so we could hit our trail and target the new areas that would likely bring more yard birds to check off the list. At the end of last year we were at 94. Within the last three weeks, we’ve added six birds. Amazing! Also with those six birds came 100.

So what is a yard list? Well for any enthusiast into birds, mammals, reptiles, etc. a yard list is a running tally to keep track of any of those things you see from or in your yard. You can create multiple lists and have your own rules because they are your lists. For instance, the rule we have for our yard bird list is that we have to physically be on our property when we see or hear the bird. The bird can for instance be flying or perched outside our property lines but as long as we are on the property and the bird can be unmistakably identified, it counts. This is a fun way to keep track of the different things seen on your property and also makes time at home more fun. The last few birds that made our list were great migrants like the Prothonotary Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and Hooded Merganser. A great feature in the Audubon app is listing. I keep our yard list up to date in the app on my iPhone and then Sync my content to my FREE account on the www.audubonguides.com website.

What bird made our 100? Our 100th bird was the Nashville Warbler. I’ve been walking our trail for the past few weeks as migration has really turned on hoping for mornings or evenings where birds have fallen in. The funny thing about the Nashville Warbler yesterday was that I wasn’t even out of the house yet. I awoke to him calling right outside our window! It’s always a good morning when I awake to nature instead of the Marimba on my iPhone. =) I love how the 100th bird came but a part of me was hoping it’d be on the trail with my family. Having said that, maybe during our family walk tonight, 101 will be added to the list! I wonder what it will be…

To hear the sound of a Nashville Warbler, click HERE

Yellowthroats and Thistles

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Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Common Yellowthroat by Jack Ballard

While editing and processing a batch of photos for a stock photo site I’m building with a couple of partners, I came across a sequence of photos I shot of a Common Yellowthroat male. The little fellow was obviously annoyed by our group of floaters invading his domain at a designated campsite on Montana’s Smith River. Noticing the brightly-colored bird flitting from perch to perch near my tent, I ambled over to his abode and sat down with my camera. In less than five minutes he was back, fluttering here and there, all the while keeping an eye on the two-legged interloper.

One of his favorite perches proved to be the budding flower of a large, tall thistle. From my boyhood days on the family ranch I remember Canada Thistles and Russian Thistles, two non-native invaders my father perpetually battled in the wheat and barley fields. While editing the photos of the sentinel Yellowthroat, I identified his prickly perch as yet another spiny non-native, the Musk or Nodding Thistle. When the seeds of this thistle mature in late summer, they may be eaten by Pine Siskins or Goldfinches. Bug-loving Yellowthroats find them as useless as forage, but this one obviously favored his thistle-perch.

Musk Thistle © Gerald D. Tang/gardenIMAGE

Graced with the rare opportunity to photograph a more often heard than seen member of the warbler family, I must confess a grudging measure of gratitude to this invasive thistle. Will that keep me from uprooting these troublesome thistles in the future? Nope. Mr. Yellowthroat will just have to perch on the Goldenrod next door.

Morning Stroll

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Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Black-and-white Warbler by Rosemary Allen

I took a stroll last week past an oak hammock, down towards the edge where the willows meet the pond cypress swamp, near my home in SW Florida. While the lone Wood Stork flew overhead and Turkey Vultures rode the thermals, I walked through the still bare-leafed cypresses laden with their catkins full of pollen and their smaller female cones ready to receive. The pollen fluff from the willows greeted me first while warblers flitted and called, eating as they jumped, flew or crawled from branch to branch. I stood among stands of tall coastal plain willows mixed with Red Maples, dahoon holly and wax myrtle, the result of a wet prairie evolving into woodland after years of no fire.

Black-and-white Warbler by Rosemary Allen

There were more than enough clouds of gnats, swarms of flies and assorted larvae to feed this hungry flock of mixed songbirds. Finding my spot and being careful to avoid the fire ant piles, I sat and watched the Black-and-white Warbler work the willows. This bird appears to be very successful at finding food between the furrows of the bark, along stems, and under leaves with ceaseless movement. Just as quickly as he appears into my view in front of the willow trunk, he disappears behind. And for just a moment I have an opportunity to look at him straight on. I waited patiently for him to reappear but this time it was near the base of the small shrub. Now, this bird was hammering into the bark. For a fleeting second I wondered if he had learned this skill from the woodpeckers he hung out with and then, of course, I realized this was the woodpecker he was hanging out with, a Downy Woodpecker to be precise. Often when I am birding I only have a chance to glance at the head , back or wing, so I have learned to catch on to some identifiable characteristics. Both are bark foragers but in this instance the giveaway was the behavior. The warbler is more like a vacuum cleaner, hopping and creeping with his tail held up; the downy is more like a pneumatic drill sitting back on his tail. But they look so similar with their small size and their black and white coloring! Both of their heads are striped but there is a white stripe on the Downy’s back and the belly is white, not striped. The absence of a red patch on the head identifies it as a female. The warbler’s strong contrasting black and white stripes with the white eye stripe and white wing bars identify it as a male. And as I looked closely at their beaks, the warbler’s was thinner when compared to the chiseled beak of the woodpecker. Although identifying them at last gave me satisfaction; their behavior was far more interesting to observe.

Downy Woodpecker by Rosemary Allen

When I first arrived 12 years ago, this land was still a wet prairie and the wading birds were the ones to see here with flocks of Roseate Spoonbills, egrets, herons and ibis. For the time being, the songbirds and woodpeckers are the stars of the show filling their bellies and of course, the hawks and eagles are close behind waiting to fill theirs.

Downy Woodpecker by Rosemary Allen

FALL-OUT

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Wednesday, June 8th, 2011


At 6:30 am a few Wednesdays ago, a couple dozen birders met at Fort Whyte Alive for a two-hour bird-walk and a hearty breakfast. Nobody was optimistic.

The centre’s thermometer read 3 degrees, and a fierce face-chafing wind made it feel colder, especially for May.

I have a ready term for people who engage in this kind of activity: daffy birdwatchers. I included myself.

Fort Whyte Alive is a former stone quarry converted to a nature-education centre surrounded by malls and suburban housing. A large, deep pond that attracts migrating ducks and geese is its main feature. A quick scan of the water revealed nothing special. We split into five or six groups, grumbled like spoiled teenagers, and headed into the surrounding “woods.”

Our spirits perked up when we encountered more than a smattering of sparrows, scratching up the undergrowth. Many of us quickly and unexpectedly toted up 8 or 10 first-of-the-year sparrows.

Then we started to discover warblers—in bunches. Mixed flocks of early arrivals like yellow-rumps (“butter-butts” to the slangy among us) and orange-crowned, mingling with the other varieties. Our group had a dozen species of flitty, colorful warblers by breakfast.

Some of us ate quickly, phoned in late for work, and headed back into the bush.

Foul weather can sometimes be a boon rather than the bane of our birding experiences. The cold and wind had precipitated a warbler fall-out. They were everywhere, low to the ground and sluggish from the temperature and easily spotted because the trees had not yet begun to leaf-out.

Our group had 14 species of warblers of the possible 24, and 67 other species for the morning. Another group had 18 species of warblers. A miracle morning.

The fair weather birders who stayed home missed a surprisingly fruitful morning. Shakespeare was right: fair can be foul and foul can be fair.

Warbler World

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Tuesday, May 17th, 2011


All around the United States, Warblers do their best to impress. For some of these meager beauties, it’s not a hard job as a number of their extreme colors and interesting behaviors steal the hearts of birders everywhere. Each spring, their amazing motions and curious sounds are what truly mean summer is around the corner.
In our Midwest, Magee Marsh is the place to witness the spring migration of these tiny gems. Typically, 37 different species make a pass through Magee each spring. It’s not easy to see all 37 in the same trip as species arrival dates differ but a trip in the first part of May can easily yield 20+ species of Warbler. Magee falls in the category of stopover points in migration. Think of these stopover points as giant rest areas for birds. Sitting on around 2000 acres of mixed habitats, Magee is located about 30 minutes east of Toledo, OH on the south shores of Lake Erie. This Great Lake is the main reason so many birds stop and re-energize before making the journey across to well-known Pelee Island and Pt. Pelee on the Ontario side.
Magee’s mixed habitats offer an abundance of much needed fuel for the birds before heading on in their Northward journeys. Warblers are mostly insectivores and because of this, they are most often seen in the forest canopies. This typically makes them difficult to find. At Magee, however, it’s been said that the Warblers are dripping from the trees. Many of the Warblers here are much lower, feeding incessantly, and in easy view for visitors. This makes for not only amazing learning experiences but sweet opportunities for non-birdwatchers to catch “the birding bug” as they experience birds in a whole new way. There is nothing better than seeing people of all ages exclaim in pure excitement as a Black-throated Green Warbler, which they’ve never seen before, is feeding no more than 4 feet away. The rich colors and the snap of the beak as the bird catches insects would drop the jaws of even the hardest of critics.
While the first part of May brings a frenzy of excitement when many Warblers return to the Midwest, many other species are also in big numbers. A morning hike to a local trail system can easily yield big bird lists. Get out the ol’ Gazetteer and make your next outing a treasure hunt for new and notable species of any kind.

Black and White to Pegapalo: The Two Worlds of a Warbler

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Thursday, November 11th, 2010

Watching warblers on the wintering grounds is always amazing for me. Because I am most familiar with their breeding habits and habitats, they seem like completely different birds. But they are as at home here in the Dominican Republic where I stand as they are in the New England woods.

A Cape May Warbler forages in a bush in dry shrublands, a Black-throated Blue Warbler calls in a wet rainforest on a mountain slope. An American Redstart flits from fruit tree to fruit tree in an arboretum, a Blackpoll calls from a tree in the middle of the city on its way to South America, and a Black-and-white Warbler creeps down a limb, jumps to a hanging vine working its way downward foraging for insects.

The Black-and-white Warbler has an unusually long hind toe and claw on each foot, allowing it to walk on the surface of tree bark at any angle. They search trunks and branches for insects with pokes, prods and prying, which gives them their Spanish name here, Pegapalo – hitting stick. Most of their foraging time is spent on tree trunks and large, inner branches where fewer wood-warblers forage, effectively avoiding interspecific competition.

They are often found among mixed species foraging flocks comprised of other migratory and resident songbirds. As a flock of birds comes into their territory foraging, they tend to join and move with the group. This may have two benefits. It may reduce the chances of predation as more eyes and ears are on the alert, and it may increase foraging efficiency as the crowd flushes prey items.

Black-and-whites are most abundant in intact, large forests, but they are able to make a living in disturbed habitats too. I have seen them in city parks, backyards, and farms. Some of my colleagues in the Dominican Republic have found that 65% of Black-and-White Warblers kept territories on shade coffee plantations smaller than 25 acres. An amazing 40% of them returned to the same plantation a year or more later. That cup of shade grown, organic coffee in your hand is clearly important for Pegapalos.

In April and early May they’ll get the urge to migrate and soon they will be back at my house in New England singing their squeaky-wheel song and I’ll remember their southern home once again.

Scarlet Swamp Hibiscus

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Thursday, July 8th, 2010

After the warblers have flown north and the leaves have filled in, the cypress swamp becomes a darkened secret garden. This sanctuary has a hushed day time tone in the summer months with certain sounds louder and more distinct than others.
Walking under the canopy, lush foliage surrounds you and the light filters down through swaying branches. If you look carefully you can begin to make out the fingered leaves of the hibiscus catching some of that falling light. With growth following the surge of water and warmer weather these bushy plants can reach six feet in height. Some visitors experience a flashback and take a second look thinking they have spotted some errant cannabis on this trail but the flower brings them back to the present.
This one flower in particular rewards the patient observer with a perceived song triggered by the brilliant scarlet against the mixed shades of green from the leaves and the dappled bark of the cypress trees. Let the flower’s voice hold you for a while for a chance to see butterflies and hummingbirds visit for nectar, a wonder filled high if I say so myself.