Wood Warblers – A Fine Day Out

Wow. After a night of heavy rain, this morning all the trees and shrubs and grass were drenched and dripping – and full of songbirds, including migrating warblers probably forced down by the weather – a Black-throated Blue Warbler, a Yellow Warbler, and two Western Palm Warblers, and a Yellow-breasted Chat.

I’m sure I only saw and heard a very few of many that may have been here, and it wasn’t as spectacular as a full-fledged “warbler wave,” but in a spring when it seems there’ve been very few migrating songbirds here, it felt like an abundance, and each one of the four species – two only heard and two seen – left a vivid impression.

Late in the morning, clouds still hung low enough for foggy patches here and there. The light was gray and misty, the air cool, with a light breeze. The first thing I heard when I stepped out the door – and the background music almost everywhere – were the songs of Yellow-rumped Warblers, the familiar drab little birds that have been with us in great numbers all winter and lately have begun to sing and to change into spring plumage. They fill the trees, and their songs are lovely, even if it is so often frustrating to look at all the birds flitting around in the dense green leaves – and 99 percent of them are Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers called spee-spee. A Northern Mockingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Cardinal, Carolina Wren, Eastern Towhee and Chipping Sparrow sang; a Red-bellied Woodpecker called quuurrr and a Downy whinnied. Mourning Doves cooed.

As I was walking up a hill with woods and a creek along one side, I felt the shiver of a quiet, buzzy beer-beer-beer-BEEE coming from the woods, and stopped to listen. Beer-beer-beer-BEEE. It was a Black-throated Blue Warbler – a small, roundish warbler that lives up to its name – striking dark-blue on the back, with black face and throat and snow-white belly, and a small white patch in the dark-blue wing. Though I knew what it looked like, I couldn’t see the bird. It was a very small bird, too far back in the trees in an area with a lot of undergrowth, and even though I waited and listened for several minutes, hoping it would come closer, it did not. But its song was unmistakable, and it sang again and again – especially lovely in this misty, green-leafed setting.

A little further on, at the crest of a hill in a more open part of the neighborhood, passing the bubbly songs of House Wrens, the breeet calls of a Great Crested Flycatcher, the chatter of Chickadees and Titmice, the trill of a Pine Warbler – two small birds darted up and out of a pecan tree, then back into the foliage in a sharp, crisp way. I stopped just to check them out – and when the round, sunny head and breast of a stunning Yellow Warbler appeared out of the green leaves, I could not have been more surprised. It’s the first Yellow Warbler I’ve ever seen here in Summit Grove, and one of the few I’ve ever seen so well.

For just a moment or two, I had a very clear view – an all-yellow bird; warm, buttery, bright yellow, with blurry, red-orange streaks on the chest and sides. It disappeared back into the leaves, but I found it again, and was able to watch it through a screen of leaves for a few minutes more as it preened. It was quiet, not singing.

Walking on, I heard the songs of White-throated Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, American Robin and several Brown Thrashers. I had passed the old field and turned around and headed home, when I heard behind me a harsh, prickly chet-chet-chet-chet that sounded like a musical version of the dry and thorny vines and weeds in the field. I took a few steps back and heard it again – a Yellow-breasted Chat. It seemed to be singing from somewhere in a small chinaberry tree choked in vines and surrounded in privet, honeysuckle and other weeds – an odd song of whistles, hoarse notes, and the chet-chet-chet-chet. After several minutes, it moved even further away – so I gave up trying to see it and walked on, just happy to have heard its song.

Only a few yards further down the road, two small birds were flitting around in a large pecan tree at the entrance to our subdivision – two Western Palm Warblers. Because of the gray light, and the way they were moving around among the leaves, the view wasn’t ideal, but both slender little birds were pumping their tails energetically and constantly, in a way so typical of Palm Warblers there was little doubt. Watching them for a few minutes, I was able to pick out some of the markings – the reddish-brown crown, especially, and a dark streak through the eye, faint streaks on the sides, pale underneath, and a grayish-brown back. I could not see any yellow, on the throat or under the tail.

As if to make the day perfect, a Scarlet Tanager sang and called around the yard off and on all day. A Northern Parula sang its sharp, zippy song in the woods. And from deeper in the woods, along the creek, a Louisiana Waterthrush whistled its anthem. Though I don’t usually like to count birds, I couldn’t help it today, and counted 39 species in all, including eight species of warblers. On a day like this, it did seem worth remarking just on the numbers. A fine day out.

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