Friday, March 29, 2013

Warbler Time, Yay?

Back when I visited my brother and birded on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge I saw my first warbler: the warblers are on their way! Dang, it is not going to get easy from here. Oh, I do like that I get them before Paul and I do like that I added one to my list, but I will tell you (and I alluded to this before) that I am not ready for warblers.

Gulls? Give me gulls any day over warblers. Sure, they are boring and are annoying to identify, but gulls do an amazing thing: they are conspicuous and don’t hide trees and overgrown plants. Have to see the color legs and marking on the bill? Yep, the gulls will often stand there on a beach for you. Need to see the wing marking? They like to soar around. Gulls are fine.

I was lucky in that the first warbler I saw was a Yellow-Rumped Warbler; those are easy. Their markings and yellow rump stand out and made the identification easy. But look around at the warblers and you’ll see all variations of ‘a small bird that is grey and brown and white with yellow somewhere on it usually’ and that is without even looking at the ones in the thrush group (like the Golden-Crowned Kinglet I saw the other day). It is tell that there is a whole Peterson field guide devoted just to warblers.

How to identify them then? Getting a good look is…uhhh…good, and some people like to use their song to identify them, but I am more leery and skeptical of those identifications. Paul and I might use song to help us identify things, but we need to see them. I guess I’ll do what I do with any bird or group of birds I’m unsure of: I’ll study them in my field guides and online before going out and looking for them (it worked for Fish Crows and Rusty Blackbirds).

So, that said and me not being an expert at warblers, we have the following picture:

Photo by Deborah Rebisz
No, let us not get excited, this was neither taken by me or Paul. This was taken last summer by Deborah, Paul’s cousin-in-law (we are practically family!) at Lake Austin in central Texas. Deborah is a fan of the blog and likes to update us on the birds she has seen during the year. Usually she posts pictures of things we have no hope of seeing unless we actually go to Texas, but today she posted this to be identified, so let’s practice our warblering abilities with it!

Ok, looks mostly yellow, so nothing in the thrush group warblers, so let’s just look at the wood warblers. The ones that are heavily yellow include: Tennessee, blue-winged, yellow (duh), magnolia, pine, bay breasted (young), protonothary, Kentucky, Wilson’s, Canada, hooded, and golden crowned. See! Luckily we can drop a bunch of them off right away.

No dark markings around the eyes, so we can drop off blue winged, bay breasted, Kentucky (boo!), hooded, and golden crowned. Better.

The whole head is yellow and no streaking on the chest, so we can cross off magnolia, pine, and Canada (yay!).

Now we are left with Tennessee, yellow, protonothary, Wilson’s. Ok, we can narrow those four down! It looks too bright (even in the shade) to be a Tennessee, and its has some black markings on the wing, unlike the Wilson’s. The back and wing coloring don’t quite match a protonothory (good, because I’ll be damned if I type that gain, let alone pronounce it).

Looks to me like a female yellow warbler! Dang, all that work for a freaking yellow warbler. But, look, it was in central Texas, so it is not common there; just a migrant. That is actually a pretty good sighting for that location. Let’s check eBird to see how common they are in Lake Austin.

Well, it looks like there are sightings there, though not as common as other areas like around Pennsylvania. And, you know, I could be wrong with my identification, so everyone feel free to chime in with your opinion.

Maybe warblers aren’t going to be so bad after all? What? Why is the book mentioning 'hybrids'?

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