I just simply could not fit all of the warbler wonderfulness into one single post! In the 9 days I spent in NW Ohio, I observed 27 different species of warblers! I wrote a bit about the wonder of warbler migration in a previous post, but wanted to highlight a few more of my favorite warbler encounters from the Magee Marsh boardwalk.
The American Redstart, aka the Halloween Warbler, is a strikingly plumaged Warbler and shares its combination of orange, black, and white with only the Blackburnian Warbler. It is even more distinctive as it forages or defends its territory, as it commonly flashes its wing and fans its tail, revealing those brightly colored patches of orange or yellow. Fun fact: this warbler’s scientific name (Setophaga ruticilla) means “red-tailed moth-eater”. After observing this fierce insect hunter, I agree that is a perfectly suitable name! Also, notice the rictal bristles around the base of its bill – these stiff, tapering feathers are more common among flycatchers, and help to catch insects. In fact, American Redstarts and Least Flycatchers often have territorial disputes as they compete for a similar food source.
Magnolia Warbler….I mean, really?!? Someone on instagram (I can’t remember who??) recently described this bird as a “fancy cupcake of the forest”, and I can think of no better description. This yellow-throated, yellow-chested small warbler sports a fancy black necklace with black stripes down its sides. This dainty, brilliantly colored warbler is nice and easy to observe as it tends to forage in the deciduous shrubs or low trees. Magnolia Warblers are gleaners, and forage for insects and spiders among conifer needles and broadleaf foliage.
Speaking of necklaces, this Canada Warbler also boasts an impressive one! The bold eyering and spectacles of this sprightly fly-catching warbler gives it a surprised and alert look. The Canada Warbler is tough to observe as it forages in the dense understory, typically feeding among shrubs. I waited quite a long time for this guy to finally pop-up and pose so cooperatively on this fallen tree. The warbler mostly breeds in the boreal forests of Canada, and is the last to arrive and first to leave. It was a real treat to spot this guy from the Magee Boardwalk!
Of the 27 species of warbler, there are just a few more that were cooperative enough to allow me to photograph them. Thankfully, this Northern Parula was among the cooperative ones! This small warbler is notorious for inflicting “warbler neck” on birders hoping to catch a glance, as it gleans insects in the upper canopy. In fact, as I right this, I have been camping in the Ozarks in Arkansas where the Northern Parulas have been singing nonstop from high in the trees all week, but I barely caught a glimpse of them! Not the case at the Magical Magee! Like me, this Northern Parula prefers forests that are laden with mosses and lichens – they hide their nests inside hanging Spanish moss, in the South, or Usnea lichen in the North. How cute is that?!
Bay-breasted Warblers breed in the northern coniferous forests of Canada, in thick stands of spruce and fir, where they favor the caterpillars that result from spruce budworm outbreaks. I had a hard time getting good photos of these beautiful warblers, but I just love the combination of their black, cream, and chestnut colors.
I’ll end with a smattering of some of the other warbler species I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with…..perhaps I’ll return to this post to add a bit more detail. One of the most incredible birds of the trip, that I did not have an opportunity to photograph, was a Kirtland’s Warbler found at Oak Openings Preserve. This rare, federally Endangered Species has particularly rigid habit requirements for nesting. It depends on a fire regime to provide open areas with small jack pines, and so has a very restricted range. I was extremely lucky to spot a group of visibly excited birders. I quickly made my way in their direction (they were SUPER excited, I knew it was something big), and casually asked what they were looking at. They squealed, “KIRTLAND’S WARBLER”!! He was high up in a Sugar Maple, but I caught some lovely looks before he flew off. Spectacular!!!