Saturday, April 15, 2006

One for the records...

Louisiana Waterthrush © 2006 Mike McDowell

Migration was once again fairly heavy Thursday night and many new arrivals were seen in Pheasant Branch Conservancy the following morning. Shortly after sunrise, I entered the stream corridor trail and immediately heard my first Louisiana Waterthrush of spring. Oh man, they can be such sly and sneaky birds, but deliver an incredible burst of notes announcing their presence in the woods.

But it’s not only the waterthrush. There are hundreds of Yellow-rumped Warblers singing in the upper-story, creating a backdrop layer of song. The Tufted Titmouse and Black-capped Chickadee calls punctuate this with their cheery melodies. Northern Cardinals and American Robins render a stronger voice to the choir and rhythmic drumming of several woodpecker species serve as the percussion section.

Some how, through the layers of morning birdsong I’m listening to, I manage to pick out a single individual’s contribution…whit-too, whit-too, witchee-weeoo! Perhaps it’s the musician’s trained ear picking out the subtle notes, but by the second time I realize I’m listening to the song of a Hooded Warbler...on April 14th!

And where are my birding friends? They’ve got to hear this to make sure I’m not crazy and just wishing for such an unusual find – there have been a few other interesting early warblers such as Yellow-throated Warbler and Golden-winged Warbler reported in the area so far this spring.

As I’m listening to verify the identification, I wonder if it’s a record-early? It’s definitely an important find for me, because it’s the first Hooded Warbler I’ve encountered in the conservancy in over a decade of birding there. Finally, other birders I know arrive and the Hooded Warbler doesn’t disappoint our group of eager listeners.

Later that morning Bob Domagalski confirmed the unusual nature of the sighting by offering his obligatory style of follow-up post to my report on the Wisconsin Birding Network:

“If the Hooded Warbler found this morning, April 14th, were reported to the WSO, it would go into the record books. The only valid record with an earlier arrival date is the famous fall out in late March and early April of 1950 when four different Hooded Warblers were found over four counties in that time period. Outside of these 1950 records, the earliest arrival date is April 17th, set in 2004 in Dane County by Ellen Hansen.”

Well, how about that!

Submitting to WSO, my friend Jesse Peterson wrote:

Mike McDowell first heard the bird before Steve Thiessen, Nolan Pope, and I arrived. Shortly after our arrival, we heard the bird quite a ways away on a hillside. After walking a portion of the Pheasant Branch corridor, we went back to the location where the bird was first heard. We heard the emphatic last two notes of the bird's song at first before the bird came closer to us. At that point we could clearly hear the entire song: two-weet two-weet WHIT-CHEW. Most of the time, the accent was on the WHIT, but sometimes the accent seemed to be on the CHEW. In all cases, the WHIT-CHEW was very noticeably louder and accented.

After about 20 calls over a few minutes, Mike found the bird foraging low in some bushes about 15-20 yards away. I located the bird shortly after that and saw it four or five times for brief but clear looks as it worked the brush. The bird was a brilliant yellow on the face and belly. Black extended from the top of the head, around the face, and onto the throat and upper breast.

The record is certainly exciting but nothing will top the moment I eventually got to see the bright yellow and black warbler foraging in the green thicket through my binoculars...“There it is, I see it! I see it!”

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