For the Birds: May is prime time

Where to begin? May is a firestorm of birding activity in New England.

I’ll recap a few of my recent highlights and then expand, where necessary or otherwise interesting, in subsequent columns.

A warbler by any other name: Many warblers actually have the name warbler in their name. Yellow warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, worm-eating warbler and so on. Many, however, don’t have warbler in their name. Common yellowthroat, American redstart to name a few.

A few warblers don’t have warbler in their name and look like they belong in the thrush family. The ovenbird and waterthrushes (northern and Louisiana) could easily pass for thrushes with their brown bodies and spotted chests. Heck, the waterthrushes even have thrush in their name. But they are all, indeed, warblers.

That warrants a column unto itself. I’ll dig into that in the coming weeks.

Dueling grosbeaks: I heard a rose-breasted grosbeak singing in a tree during the tail end of one of my recent walks. I paused enough to find its perch. As soon as I spotted the beautiful bird, another male rose-breasted grosbeak dive-bombed the original bird, and they started chasing each other through the woods. The action caught the eye of a third male grosbeak and that one joined in the chase as well. That was a first for me. Rose-breasted grosbeaks, with their white wing bars, are just as impressive-looking in flight as they are perched.

The warbler tree: Back to warblers for a minute. I was lured to a flowering apple tree by a northern parula, another warbler without warbler in its name. I tried, mostly in vain, to get a photo of the tiny bird as it moved from bud to bud looking for morsels. Finally, I stepped back from the tree and noticed the parula was not alone. A black-and-white warbler, blue-winged warbler and American redstart were also moving about the tree. I don’t think I had ever seen four warblers in one tree at the same time before.

New tune to me: I didn’t know what it was at first, but I knew it was something I hadn’t seen before. I heard a strange, but awesome, song coming from the thicket and wondered how long it would take me to find the singer. It wasn’t long at all as the white-eyed vireo was on an obvious perch singing its heart out. Southern New England is the northernmost range for this southern bird so I was surprised and happy to see it.

Tons of towhees: I usually see a lot of eastern towhees starting at the end of April and going through the summer. This spring, however, I seem to be seeing way more than usual. I’ve seen at least a dozen individuals on more than one walk this spring. I hope that means good things for the towhee population.

That’s about it for now. There are a few more hectic weeks of birding ahead until it slows down a bit as birds settle in to raise families. Many birds, of course, have already started that process and are perhaps already onto a second brood. Either way, the action will slow down as we approach summer, so get out and enjoy these wild weeks of spring migration. And, as always, let me know what you are seeing out there.

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