For the Birds: Warblers in the snow

Photo by Chris Bosak
A blue-winged warbler perches on snowy branches at Bennett’s Farm State Park in Connecticut during a rare May snowfall in 2020.

It feels as if it were months ago and the weather has certainly taken a turn for the better, but the May 9 snowfall created some unique opportunities for birdwatchers and photographers.

I mentioned in last week’s column that we rarely see our late migratory birds in the snow. In fact, I can count on one finger the number of times in my memory it has snowed when these migrants were around — and that one time was last week.

The snow was predicted to fall during the night so I was fairly certain it would already be gone by the time I woke up. I got up early and, to my pleasant surprise, snow blanketed all surfaces. I jumped out of bed and headed to the nearest park.

How much snow you got depends on where you are in New England. I had only a slight covering where I am and the morning sun was already rising, so I had to hurry if I wanted to see these birds with a snowy background.

Photo by Chris Bosak
An ovenbird perches on snowy branches at Bennett’s Farm State Park in Connecticut during a rare May snowfall in 2020.

The first bird I was able to see was an ovenbird, a warbler that more resembles a small thrush. He belted out his signature “teacher teacher teacher” call and I stopped in my tracks. The bird flew in for a closer look and perched in a branch right above me. The branch and those around it were covered in about a quarter of an inch of snow and I got my coveted warbler-in-snow photo. Ovenbirds usually arrive In New England during the last week of April or the first week of May, well past what is normally a threat for snow.

I continued along the trail and heard a familiar insect-like buzzing and knew a blue-winged warbler was nearby. I also heard the “witchety witchety witchety” call of a common yellowthroat.

I didn’t have a lot of faith in the yellowthroat making an appearance, as they like to sulk near the ground or in heavy brush. Blue-winged warblers tend to be more curious so I waited out his appearance. After a few minutes, he did indeed appear and gave me some decent photo opps on snowy branches. My guess is that there aren’t too many photos of blue-winged warblers in the snow (even if my photos show minimal snow cover.) Most of the snow in the brushy areas was gone by the time I was done with the blue-winged warbler, so I headed back.

Along the way, I saw a hermit thrush and got some shots of it in the snow, as there were some snowy spots left in the woods. Photos of hermit thrushes in the snow are not as unusual as they tend to migrate out of New England later than a lot of our transient bird species.

Later in the day, another snow squall blanketed the ground and the hummingbirds kept up their busy schedule of visiting the feeders. Never thought I’d see hummingbirds on a snowy day in New England.

Getting shots of late migrants in the snow is a rare opportunity indeed. I’d be OK if the opportunity didn’t come again for a long time.

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