The warblers are back and delighting, confusing, and frustrating birdwatchers throughout New England.
Warblers are small, usually colorful, passerine (perching) birds that migrate into New England every spring. Many nest here while others continue north to nest in Canada. In the fall, they head to points south such as southern U.S., the Caribbean, Central America or South America. The odd warbler shows up on New England Christmas Bird Counts from time to time, but for the most part, they are gone before the snow starts to fly.
To me, the quintessential warbler is the yellow warbler. It is small, brightly colored, numerous throughout the region and sings its ubiquitous song (“sweet sweet I’m so sweet”) over and over from the brush. It is all yellow with some rusty streaking on its chest and belly.
Warblers come in all colors, however. Many are mostly yellow and many others have flashes of yellow in their plumage. Some are black and white, and some are mostly brownish. A few are mostly blue. It’s no wonder that the spring migration, highlighted by warblers, is the favorite time of year for most birdwatchers.
Welcome to May, arguably the best month of the year for birdwatching.
So many exciting things happen in the bird world in May that it’s hard to know where to begin. The breeding season is in full swing and our year-round birds as well as newly arrived migrant birds are either looking for nesting sites or already raising young. Suddenly our feeders are visited by colorful newcomers such as rose-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles or indigo buntings. Waders are back in full force stalking our ponds and rivers.
When it comes to May, however, talk of the birding world has to begin with warblers, those small and often colorful Neotropical migrants that add life to our neck of the woods every spring. Some of these warblers will simply stop by for a few days before heading farther north to their breeding grounds. Many, however, will find a suitable place to raise young and will be with us until the fall.
Due to various reasons (excuses?), I haven’t been out this year looking for warblers yet. But here are a few “old” shots to celebrate warbler season, a highlight of the birding year. I will take my own advice soon and “get out there.”
Other than the very few warblers of various types that remained in New England all winter, the pine warbler and palm warbler will be the first arrive in the region. I have seen them show up on rare bird alerts already but they will return in larger numbers over the next two weeks. Keep you eyes on your feeders as pine warblers are one of the few warbler species that will visit feeders. I’ve seen them eat suet, suet nuggets and meal worms. Above is the pine warbler; below is the palm.
Something woke me up around 3:30 a.m. and I couldn’t fall back asleep. I gave up trying when the darkness outside my window started to brighten. What the heck, I told myself. It’s the height of warbler season so let’s go find some warblers. I made a cup of coffee and raced the rising sun to a nearby park. I headed down a path that has led to warblers in the past. It did again this time. There wasn’t a tremendous variety of warblers (maybe seven species) but the ones I did see kept me entertained.
My favorite was this American redstart that followed me along the path for an inordinate amount of time. It gave me great looks at it, but it would not sit still very well for photos. I managed a few decent shots despite his hyperactivity. A few more photos are below.
(Repeat text for context: I’m running out of COVID-19 lockdown themes so from now until things get back to some semblance of normalcy, I will simply post my best photo from the previous day. You could say it fits because of its uncertainty and challenge. I’ll call the series “A Day on Merganser Lake,” even though that’s not the real name of the lake I live near in southwestern Connecticut, it’s just a nod to my favorite duck family.)
The black-and-white warbler is another common warbler in New England. Black-and-white warblers are one of the few warblers often seen on tree trunks. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, they have an extra hind claw that helps them cling to trunks. They are also often heard and not spotted, especially when the leaves are fully out in our New England woods. Listen for the high-pitched squeaky wheel song. Some song descriptions are of little help, but this warbler sounds exactly like a squeaky wheel. The black-and-white warbler is not a colorful warbler (obviously) but it’s a striking bird regardless with its striped plumage.
The ovenbird’s “teacher, teacher, teacher” song is often the dominant sound in the New England woods during spring and summer. It is a loud and piercing song, but it is often difficult to find the source. The ovenbird is small (it is a warbler after all) and well-camouflaged bird. It resembles a thrush with its overall brownish plumage and spotted chest but it also has an orange crown flanked by two dark streaks. The ovenbird, which is named for the shape of its ground nest, is often found walking along the forest floor. It will sing from the ground or from a perch in the woods making it that much more difficult to find.
I checked out Happy Landings, an open space of fields and shrubby areas in Brookfield, Connecticut, after dropping off my son Will at middle school the other day. With its huge fields, the protected space is a rare haven for bobolinks in New England. There should be more such field habitat. Anyway, I wanted to see if the bobolinks were back and sure enough, they were — along with plenty of other birds. Take a look …
Happy birding and let me know what you see out there this migration period.
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.)