In the spring, when the leafing trees are full of warblers, it sure helps to have a birding group like our Wednesday Morning Bird Walks to provide trained ears and 14 eyes (or so) instead of just my 2! Migrating birds ride south winds into our parks on their way north, with most birds moving through in April and May. These temporary guests are small and move quickly about in brush or high in the trees. Some birders, like Ben and our fellow birders, Antonio and Mark, can tell us which birds we’re hearing or they spot small movements in the treetops and show us where to point our binoculars.
In the last two weeks, I went looking for warblers and other avian visitors at Cranberry Lake and Charles Ilsley Parks. Some are just passing through, some spending the summer.
As an amateur photographer, it’s a challenge to get decent pictures of these tiny, fast-moving bird guests, so please, click on red links in this blog to see, or in some cases hear, birds that eluded my camera. They’re beautifully diverse. Who knows? Maybe you’ll recognize them in your yard or on your next walk.
Warblers and Others Just Passing Through
According to Wikipedia, English-speaking Europeans refer to their warblers, sparrows, and other small birds as “LBJ’s, ” meaning “little brown jobs.” I used to ignore our “LBJ’s” thinking they were “just sparrows.” Turns out, sparrows can be beautiful too! And our warblers here in North America come in all sorts of subtle colors, especially in the spring when they’re dressed for courting. Here’s a beautiful Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica) that the birding group saw at Cranberry Lake Park.
During the winter, this little male hung out with tropical warblers in the Caribbean or Central America. After traveling so far, it’s no wonder he needed to stock up on food and rest on his way to breeding grounds farther north.
We spotted the Northern Parula warbler (Setophaga americana), but it just wouldn’t come out for my camera. Even Cornell Lab’s photo doesn’t do it justice, because its gray is much bluer in morning light and its back has a green patch – plus those rusty stripes on a golden throat! (Look at “Field Marks” lower on the page for a better shot.) No LBJ, I’d say!
We heard the “squeaky wheel” call of the Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia) before we saw this little bird. It creeps along the bark like a nuthatch looking for insects. What a snappy dresser in those bold pin-stripe feathers! Listen to him here at “Typical Voice” about halfway down the page.
For a bit of warm sunshine on a gray day, listen for the Yellow Warbler (Setophaga petechia). The male’s quick song , recorded at Cranberry Lake Park by Antonio Xeira and posted on the Xeno-Cantu site, sounds to some folks like a repetition of “Sweet, sweet, I’m a little sweet!” – very appropriate for this bright yellow bird with a rusty-striped breast. Yellow warblers can be found in wetlands in our parks throughout the summer.
The Nashville Warbler (Oreothlypis ruficapilla) isn’t quite as glamorous but it’s definitely not an LBJ. These small birds with their eye rings, gray backs and yellow breasts travel north to pine forests where they make their nests out of moss, bark and pine needles, or sometimes, according to the Cornell Lab, even porcupine quills! Here’s a photo I took of one at Bear Creek last fall.
The modest Tennessee Warbler (Oreothlypis peregrina) looks much more subdued. Both were named for the place they were first sighted and both stopped at Cranberry Lake Park this spring.
Ben heard or saw some other warblers in the two parks that I haven’t seen this spring. Have a look at the Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera), seen at both Cranberry Lake and Ilsley Parks, whose wings look gray in some light (as in the photo) and blue/gray at other times. Or the Black-throated Green Warbler, an olive-green bird with a black throat and black stripes down the side of its breast. Ben always identifies this warbler by its buzzing call, which some folks describe as “zoo-zee, zoo,zoo, zee.” Listen here for the insect-like call (middle of page under “Typical Voice.”). The Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia), with its bright yellow head and black-striped breast, also stopped by Cranberry Lake Park. Isn’t it great that our parks provide food and rest for these little travelers ?
Even our sparrow visitors are not just LBJ’s! Have a look at the boldly striped cap of this White-crowned Sparrow(Zonotrichia leucophrys)at Charles Ilsley Park. In the second photo, he’s munching off dandelion seeds. See, those puffs in your lawn are food to some of our avian visitors!
Guests That Spend the Summer With Us
The parks are filling, as well, with migrating birds that come to our parks to nest and raise their young. One of the smallest (and hardest to photograph) is one that I think should be called “The Bandit Bird.” But unfortunately, this warbler’s name is the Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), another bright yellow bird, but this little bird has a black mask across its eyes. Like any good bandit, the Yellowthroat skulks in tangled vines and branches often near marshy areas. The males, though, give their presence away with a very distinctive call of “Witchety, witchety, witchety” as heard here in Antonio’s recording. (Click on images to enlarge; hover cursor for captions.)
Some larger summer guests have arrived in the parks, as well. We saw an Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) at Cranberry Lake but it was down in the grass near the parking lot – so here’s a previous spring’s photo from Bear Creek.
Ben and some other birders saw a Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)at Cranberry Lake before I arrived – drat! But here’s a photo from a previous spring at Bear Creek. This beautiful bird traveled all the way from South America just to raise young here in Oakland Township.
The nesting boxes are busy at Charles Ilsley Park. Here a Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor) stands guard at one of them.
Nearby, its Eastern Bluebird neighbor, who may have stuck around all winter or arrived much earlier in the year, was out plucking what looks like a caterpillar from a plant and delivering to his presumably nesting mate.
The glorious Baltimore Orioles were in both parks that I visited. The male’s pure, high whistle can be heard high in the treetops as he and his mate search for a spot, usually near water, to weave its bag-like nest that will rock its young in the wind.
Time and Migration Wait for No Man…or Woman Either!
The rolling slopes of Ilsley Park, with its golden dandelion-strewn paths, await! If you can spare the time, join the Wednesday morning bird walks listed under the Stewardship Events tab above. Ben will provide binoculars and his expertise and the easy-going birders will welcome you. So will the glorious avian visitors either enjoying a little R&R before moving on or settling in to raise a family. But many of the warblers will only be here a few more days. So come have a look!
Footnote: My sources for information are as follows: Ritland, D. B., & Brower, L. P. (1991); Stokes Nature Guides: A Guide to Bird Behavior Volumes 1-3, Allaboutbirds.org, the website of the Cornell Ornithology Lab at Cornell University; Wikipedia; http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org; Herbarium of the University of Michigan at michiganflora.net; various Michigan Field Guides by Stan Tekiela; Butterflies of Michigan Field Guide by Jaret C. Daniels; University of Wisconsin's Bug Lady at www4.uwm.edu/fieldstation/naturalhistory/bugoftheweek/ for insect info; http://www.migrationresearch.org/mbo/id/rbgr.html for migration info; invaluable wildflower identification from local expert, Maryann Whitman; experienced birder Ruth Glass, bird walk leader at Stoney Creek Metro Park for bird identification; Birds of North America Online; Audubon.org; Nature in Winter by Donald Stokes, Trees in My Forest by Bernd Heinrich, Winter World by Bernd Heinrich, Savannah River Ecology Lab (Univ of Georgia); Tortoise Trust website www.tortoisetrust.org; An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds by Jonathan Silvertown; The Ecology of Plants by Gurevitch, Scheiner and Fox; other sites as cited in the text.