Blue-winged warbler: Bonus photo from my last bird walk

Photo by Chris Bosak
A blue-winged warbler sings from a perch in Brookfield, CT, May 2019.

To me anyway, the blue-winged warbler is one of the more strikingly plumaged birds we see in New England. The overall bright yellow plumage is an obvious eye-catcher, but the black eyestripe adds an unmistakable element of coolness to the bird’s appearance. The blue-winged warbler is common in New England and breeds throughout the region. Listen for its insect-like song as you walk along the edge of woods.

Blue-winged warblers have expanded their range northward since the 1800s, which is good and bad news. Why? This is from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology: “In the late 1800s, Blue-winged Warbler populations expanded northward as agricultural fields were abandoned and forest clearcuts started regrowing. This northward expansion increased the frequency of contact with Golden-winged Warblers, a Partners in Flight Red Watch List species, as well as hybridization between the two species. Hybridization and competition between Golden-winged and Blue-winged Warblers is partially responsible for declining populations of Golden-winged Warblers.”

Nature has a delicate balance.

More towhees and a warbler

Photo by Chris Bosak A yellow warbler perches on a branch in Ridgefield, Conn., April 2019.

A recent walk in block 91A (my area of the Connecticut Bird Atlas) yielded even more eastern towhees than my walk last week. At one point I saw a female eastern towhee carrying a lump of straw in her bill. Good sign!

Later in my walk, after seeing a beautiful coyote cross the trail and disappear into the woods, I saw my first yellow warbler of the year. Yellow warblers are one of the more ubiquitous warblers in New England as they both migrate through and stay to breed Continue reading

Warbler watch is on

Photo by Chris Bosak A Pine Warbler sits on a deck railing in New England this fall.
Photo by Chris Bosak A Pine Warbler sits on a deck railing in New England this fall.

The early warblers started arriving in New England a week or two ago. Pine warblers and palm warblers are typically the first two species to make their way back this far north and, sure enough, both are back now. This post includes photos of both species so you know what you’re looking for. (Above is the pine warbler; below is the palm warbler.)

The spring warbler season is the highlight of the year for many birdwatchers. It will pick up gradually over the next week or so and then erupt from late April through the middle of May. At the height of the warbler migration, a New England birdwatcher can see between 20 and 30 warbler species in a single day. (It would take some effort, of course, but it’s very possible.)

I’ll post frequently about warblers over the next few weeks and, hopefully, have plenty of fresh warbler photos to share. In the meantime, practice up with this link from AllAboutBirds.org — it includes various warblers and their songs.

Photo by Chris Bosak Palm Warbler
Photo by Chris Bosak Palm Warbler

For the Birds: Waiting for warblers

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs weekly in several New England newspapers.

Photo by Chris Bosak A Pine Warbler sits on a deck railing in New England this fall.

Photo by Chris Bosak
Pine Warbler at feeder in Danbury, Conn., fall 2015.

Finally, I thought, a warbler singing in the backyard.

It’s been a long winter and the pine warbler I usually hear by the end of the first week of April never materialized. The first week of April turned into the second week and still no warblers to be seen or heard — at least on my end.

One cool, but bright morning last week, I stepped out onto the deck to fill the feeders and heard a high-pitched, soft and somewhat melodic tune coming from a giant oak. Surely a warbler, I thought, but I wasn’t sure which one.

I grabbed the binoculars, which always hang at the ready just inside the door. Now to find the little bugger. The leaves haven’t popped yet, so this shouldn’t be too tough, I told myself. It was more difficult than I thought, of course, but I finally zeroed in on a little bird high up on the trunk.

As you can probably tell from the build-up, it wasn’t a warbler at all. It was a brown creeper — a small, brown bird seen on tree trunks throughout New England, mostly in the fall, winter and spring. Usually the birds are silent as they look for insects by starting at the bottom of a tree trunk and working their way up.

In fact, I think this may have been the first time I consciously heard the song of a brown creeper. The website AllAboutBirds.org describes the song, sung only by males, as such: “His song is a jumble of high, thin notes that lasts up to 1.5 seconds. It’s sometimes likened to singing the phrase, ‘beautiful trees.’”

You’d think after all these years of birdwatching, I would know all the songs of warblers and be able to distinguish between warblers and non-warblers. There are many types of warblers, however, and I know a lot of the songs, but not all of them. Plus, this song was very warbler-like, as I mentioned. Also — my final excuse, I promise — it’s been 11 months since we’ve heard warblers singing and my birding-by-ear is rusty. It’s only average to begin with, so this guy definitely fooled me.

Not that I’m complaining that it was a brown creeper. I find them extraordinarily interesting birds, despite their small size and rather non-descript appearance. I like how they work up the trunk of a tree and then fly down to the base of a nearby tree to start again.

I’m still waiting on that first warbler, but I’m confident they will arrive soon. As usual, the sightings will start as a trickle — pine warbler here, palm warbler there — and then become a fantastically overwhelming phenomenon of tiny, colorful birds in the trees.

Get your ears ready.

Note: Since this column was originally written, I’ve seen palm and pine warblers. Rejoice!

Singing yellowthroat makes quick appearance

Photo by Chris Bosak A common yellowthroat sings from a branch at Happy Landings in Brookfield in spring 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A common yellowthroat sings from a branch at Happy Landings in Brookfield in spring 2017.

While looking for bobolinks (more on those guys later) at Happy Landings in Brookfield, Conn., the other day, this common yellowthroat made a quick appearance. As yellowthroats often do, it disappeared as quickly as it appeared. It sang a quick tune “witchity, witchity, witchity” and ducked back into the brush.

I’ll take a quick sighting over no sighting at all any day.

For the Birds: A migratory turn of events

Here is the latest For the Birds column, which runs in several New England newspapers.

Photo by Chris Bosak A chestnut-sided warbler sings from a lower perch in Ridgefield, Conn., during the spring of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A chestnut-sided warbler sings from a lower perch in Ridgefield, Conn., during the spring of 2017.

My birdwatching fortunes this spring migration made an abrupt turn for the better last week.

The cool, wet weather – in addition to working and coaching youth baseball – had limited my time looking for birds. When I did get out there, the birdwatching was relatively slow: a towhee here, a thrush there.

I love my towhees and thrushes, of course, but the day of seeing a flurry of spring migrants had escaped me. The dry spell ended during a walk in the woods last week.

The woods themselves were alive with the sounds of ovenbirds, thrushes and even barred owls, which often sing during the day.

The ubiquitous “teacher-teacher-teacher” call of the ovenbird reminded me of a spring camping trip I did with the boys about five years ago. We canoed to a site on Grout Pond in Green Mountain National Park in southern Vermont. Once settled we walked through the woods and ovenbirds seemingly surrounded us the entire way.

It was a highlight of an otherwise, let me say difficult, camping experience. The wood was wet and wouldn’t burn, and rain fell throughout most of the cool day and cooler night. A steady wind made fishing impossible. The boys – then nine and five – fought and bickered the entire time.

I’ve had plenty of great camping experiences with the boys, but this was not one of them. I did have those ovenbirds, though.

Back to my walk Continue reading

How’s your warbler season going?

Photo by Chris Bosak A chestnut-sided warbler sings from a lower perch in Ridgefield, Conn., during the spring of 2017.

Photo by Chris Bosak
A chestnut-sided warbler sings from a lower perch in Ridgefield, Conn., during the spring of 2017.

We are heading to a point on the calendar where the spring warbler migration should be hitting its peak before trickling off as we head into the later weeks of May. The weather has been so cool and wet that many birders are wondering where the early part of the spring migration went.

I am included in that group as, between coaching youth baseball teams and having rain put a damper on birdwalks, my spring migration season has barely started .. and it’s already mid-May.

I did have a good walk recently with sightings of chestnut-sided warblers, blue-winged warblers, ovenbirds, wood thrushes, eastern towhees, and — to top it off — a male scarlet tanager. I also hear barred owls calling in the distance.

How is your spring migration season going? Let me know what you’re seeing out there.