Here is my latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in The Hour (Norwalk, Ct.) and Keene (N.H.) Sentinel.
It was like hearing from an old friend.
I used to visit a wildflower sanctuary in southern Connecticut fairly often, especially during the spring migration. It is a great place to find migrants such as Yellow Warblers, Bobolinks, Baltimore Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers, Eastern Kingbirds and, my favorite, Blue-winged Warblers. Not only do Blue-winged Warblers look striking (bright yellow plumage with long, thin black eye stripe), but they sound otherworldly, too. Well, maybe not otherworldly, but definitely not birdlike. They sound more like an insect — a big, buzzing insect that sputters its notes at the end.
It’s a sound I used to hear often when I visited the sanctuary. I made frequent visits there when I lived in nearby Westchester, N.Y. That was more than 10 years ago now. I hadn’t been back since.
Last week, however, the stars aligned to create the perfect scenario for a return visit. I was coming from Westchester and had about two hours to kill before an appointment in Stamford, Conn., reasonably close to the sanctuary. To be honest, I had forgotten all about the Blue-winged Warblers, but did remember it was a pleasant place to look for migrating birds.
The walk started out fairly slowly. I heard a few Gray Catbirds and caught a glimpse of them as they darted across the trail only to disappear in the bushes. A lone Black-and-White Warbler worked the trunk of a tree 20 yards or so off the trail.
I heard in the distance a Wood Thrush singing its flute-like song. Decades ago I would have bushwhacked through the tick-ridden brush to try to find the source of the beautiful song. These days, I’m happy hearing it.
I continued along one of the trails and spotted a few more catbirds and a robin or two. There were also several chipmunks. It seems to be a banner year for chipmunks.
I came to a clearing and memories came flooding back. A younger me used to stand at that clearing and see Bobolinks, Tree Swallows, Eastern Bluebirds, Baltimore Orioles, Yellow Warblers, and whatever else happened to be passing through that day. I lost myself in those thoughts for a little while until a sweet-sounding song interrupted my daydream. Speaking of Yellow Warblers …
The bright yellow bird with chestnut streaking on its chest perched eye-level in a nearby tree and sang its song for me. Well, obviously it wasn’t for me, but rather a nearby female Yellow Warbler, but I appreciated the gesture anyway. The bird had a rival, however, as another male Yellow Warbler appeared behind me and started singing just as heartily. The dueling songs didn’t sit well with either of the birds and in no time they were chasing each other around, darting through the brush and trees.
Where they ended up I have no idea. I continued my walk along the boardwalk and heard it, the buzzy insect-like song of the Blue-Winged Warbler. The song conjured up even more memories.
Blue-winged Warblers can be tricky to find because, in my experience, they favor very leafy brush. Low brush, which is good, but brush with lots of cover.
But I found this guy almost immediately. It was fairly high in a tree that hadn’t fully leafed out yet. Its bright yellow plumage stood out like a sore thumb, despite its small size (less than five inches long.)
Then it did something fairly unexpected. It flew from its high perch, headed toward me and landed in a small tree right next to me. I was able to get a few photos of the bird, but he tended to hide among the leaves. He continued singing as he moved among the branches.
I continued along the boardwalk and the warbler followed me. Then it darted across the trail suddenly. I whirled around to see where he was going and noticed that he, too, had a rival. Similar to Yellow Warblers before, the two Blue-winged Warblers chased each other around. Their speed and maneuvrability is amazing. Within a few minutes the initial warbler (I assume it was that one) reappeared and perched again in a tree near where I was standing.
Eventually time ran out as the clock ticked down toward my meeting time. I hated to leave the sanctuary with a Blue-winged Warbler perched so close, but it was time to go.
It was great to spend a little time at that old stomping ground. It was also nice seeing some old friends.