The aberrant warbler and a firethroat


Yellow-breasted Chat © 2007 Drew Weber

Point counts have been good as of late. I was in Lancaster County a few days finishing up points in that area and my best find was a very outgoing chat. I had it singing during a point count near Muddy Run Reservoir so I marked the spot on my GPS and returned after my morning counts were finished. I only had to play a few phrases of its song on my car speakers before he popped up again, flying back and forth checking out who was trying to take his picture. Most shots I took were pretty bad but he landed on a utility tower long enough for me to fire off one shot and that is what you see. I had forgotten how fantastically goofy these warblers/tanagers look when doing their display flight. They have always reminded me of clowns.

I believe that chats are going to be separated from the New World warblers (Parulidae) fairly soon. I can’t remember the exact details but I think they will get their own family and be considered the evolutionary bridge between tanagers and warblers. Someone please correct me if my facts are way off.


Blackburnian Warbler © 2007 Drew Weber

In another lucky catch, I managed to photograph this brilliant male Blackburnian Warbler through my binoculars. This is not a method I have ever had much success with, and although its not a print worthy photo, and a little drabber than real life, I believe it captures some of the brilliance of the reddish orange throat these warblers flaunt. Blackburnian Warblers have a ridiculously high-pitched ending to their song and are one of the first to disappear as one’s ears lose those higher pitches. It makes me curious whether even with my good hearing I am missing parts of the song.


Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies © 2007 Drew Weber

At the same place where the Blackburnian was singing, there was a large congregation of 30-40 butterflies all in one clump. If anyone know what they were doing please leave a comment…

10 Ways to See more Birds

These aren’t backed by any guarantee, just what has held true from my experience. In no particular order I present you with 10 ways to see more birds.

Walk slower. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people walk past birds because they aren’t walking slow enough, giving the birds more time to move and become visible. There is always the urge to walk fast and cover more ground, but I have found that it is when I am moving the least that I see the most.

Spend more time outside. This one is obvious, there aren’t many birds that you can see from your house unless you have a spectacular feeder setup. Not everyone gets to spend two months outdoors counting hawks in the spring, but any chance you have to bird could be the time you find something really special.

Start earlier. Birds are most active in the first couple hours of the day, particularly during migration when they are landing at first light after a long night of flying. Being there when they are most active means there will be more to see. I spent many mornings at Garret Mtn Reservation in northern NJ this spring, and I always felt bad for the people who had just showed up at 8:30am, after I had already seen 17 or so species of warbler. By the time they showed up the warblers were not as active and their chances of seeing even 10 species was getting small.

Know the habitat. Birds can turn up anywhere. Birds can and will show up in backyards, waste water treatment plants and pretty much any other place that might not seem enticing. But this is more the exception than the rule. Spending time in high quality habitat that the birds are more likely to navigate towards will often allow you great observations of foraging behavior.

Learn to interpret radar. An excellent way to get an idea if new migrants will be arriving is to check the radar every night. My favorite sources are the National Weather Service and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Woodcreeper.com is a great website that posts nightly about migration conditions in New Jersey. Reading the past posts can be a great way to learn about how this tool can be used to predict where birds will be.

Look at the weather. Great birding days can come when the weather stalls the migration during the night, leaving lots of little birds to forage while they wait for better weather. Checking out some good locations during a light rain or after a rainstorm can be very productive.

Understand migration timing. For instance, in mid-May, you will want to head to spot to catch migrating warblers, in January find an unfrozen lake that might hold ducks and in August look for flooded fields or mudflats to see shorebirds migrating south. September can bring large Broad-winged Hawk flights, while November will be dominated by the Red-tailed Hawk. Knowing what to look for will point you towards the correct type of habitats to bird.

Learn birds calls, flight calls, chip notes, contact calls, noises their wings make, and anything else that gives their presence away. Birds communicate with their voices and it is the easiest way to find them. A well hidden bird can still be heard, giving you clues to its location as well as its identity. Chips and flight calls can help you identify the bird even if you only have a brief look at it. Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs is an excellent resource for the birds songs while Flight Calls of Migratory Birds is great for learning the flight calls. Any sounds you add to your repertoire will increase you skill and enjoyment of birding.

Bird with friends. Take a buddy or two along, even if they aren’t experts. An extra set of attentive eyes can go a long way in finding birds. I would have missed my life Boreal Chickadee if my interested but inexperienced friend hadn’t asked me, “Hey, whats that one? It looks different.” And if they are experience birders, there is always the opportunity of learning new information or tricks to identify difficult birds.

Find migrant traps. There are certain places that, because of weather, topography or location, attract ridiculous concentrations of bird during migration. Point Pelee, High Island, Garret Mountain and Sandy Hook all come to mind. Some of these spots are bottlenecks, where the birds are all forced into a small area as they avoid flying across water until the last moment. Others, such as High Island and Point Pelee are the first places that birds reach after a long water crossing and so they land en masse, covering the trees as they desperately try to recover and find food. Visit a migrant trap like these and you could see flocks of warblers, tanagers, flycatchers and anything else that is flying.

I hope that these ten ideas help you to see more birds and if you have more helpful ideas, please leave them in the comments.

Birding has been good

With spring migration in full swing now, and no nasty weather to stop it sightings have really picked up. I was lucky enough to go home to Pennsylvania for a day and was able to find 7 species of warbler close to Lake Ontelaunee, one of my favorite places to bird in my county. My highlight was getting very close views at 2 different Northern Waterthrushes and realizing how different they look than the Louisiana Waterthrush. Another highlight was the Marsh Wren, a very good bird for the county.

At the hawkwatch, new birds have been arriving every day. Recently a Field Sparrow has been hanging out with the flock of Chippies behind the lookout, giving everyone great looks.

Yellow-rumped Warblers have been quite common the last few weeks but they are now in their beautiful breeding plumage and are really showing it off. There seem to be good movements in the mornings and evenings so I think I am seeing different birds each time I come up to the hawk watch.

Another new arrival that has really made his presence known is the Brown Thrasher. He just showed up a few days ago and was singing all by himself, desperately hoping for a female thrasher to come along and sing back. He was lucky and was accompanied the following day by someone who could apparently put up with his raucous cries, and possibly even thought they were beautiful.


Other birds recently heard and seen at the hawkwatch were Blue-headed Vireo (if it weren’t for dogs running loose in the park I would have an excellent shot), Warbling Vireo, Prairie Warbler and House Wren.

Warblers are a’coming!

Just to whet your appetite on what’s to come, here is my somewhat poor digishot of a Louisiana Waterthrush. I thought that putting everything in b&w except for the warbler itself would jazz it up a bit. I know that there have been recent controversies about doctoring photos but you have to remember that this is not photojournalism, its closer to art.

Anyway, this bird was neat, entertaining me on a less than exciting morning at the hawkwatch. He/she spent at least an hour, foraging in a flooded yard below the hawkwatch, pulling worms and other exciting food items out of the lawn. Unfortunately he did not sing, but that is something I will be able to hear most mornings this summer as I do my point counts for the PA Breeding Bird Atlas.

Fortunate series of chases

I had an excellent Easter. I saw 2 of the 3 birds I chased, missing only Yellow-headed Blackbird. That miss is not too big of a deal because between Scott’s Oriole (1st PA record), Lazuli Bunting (3rd PA record) and Y-h Blackbird, the blackbird is the most likely to turn up in PA again in the near future.

Both the oriole and the bunting have now been in PA for quite a while, allowing for those lucky enough to see them often to watch the progression of molt. You can see photos of the Lazuli Bunting from March 8th thru at least April 9th by clicking here.

Palm Warbler

The other highlight was seeing my first Palm Warbler of the spring at Wildwood Lake in Harrisburg, PA. This was one species that I didn’t see in my Florida trip last month. Here is a photo of a Palm Warbler that I took last fall at Cape May, NJ when they were practically swarming the beach by the hawkwatch.