Magnolia Warbler – A Pearl Among the Leaves

Despite a crisp, sunny fall morning, with a clear cerulean sky, very few birds were active in our neighborhood. Even most of the usual suspects seemed rather quiet, except for the Crows and Blue Jays. If there were migrant songbirds passing through, they were well concealed in the trees and shrubs and thickets, which is where I found just one, a pretty gray and yellow bird – a Magnolia Warbler.

I had stopped beside a densely tangled area of privet and trees along the road that’s a favorite with many different kinds of birds. At first the leafy vegetation all looked quiet and still. Then a small movement rustled in a large dogwood with lots of red berries.

After I watched for a few minutes, following the rustling leaves, a smooth, round gray head with a thin white ring around the eye emerged from the leafy cover for just a few seconds – then disappeared again. As it continued to move, foraging for insects in the tree, I saw a flash of bright yellow throat and breast, two narrow white wing bars, and a clear view of bright white under the tail.

For several seconds, all I could see was the under side of the tail itself – clean white with a very dark (it looked black) tip. Finally, the quiet little bird moved into a more open patch where I could see it all, and put the pieces together – an immature Magnolia Warbler. Like many warblers in the fall, its plumage was a more subdued, less flashy version of its full, very colorful and more easily recognized breeding plumage.

That often makes watching warblers in the fall confusing, but it also can make finding one feel like discovering a little unexpected jewel in a hidden spot.

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