Wednesday, May 03, 2017

The Palm Warbler

"And a bird overhead sang Follow,
And a bird to the right sang Here;
And the arch of the leaves was hollow,
And the meaning of May was clear."

― Algernon Charles Swinburne

Pheasant Branch Creek Corridor

A day that began with frost transformed into one of the nicest days we've had so far this spring. I spent nearly the entire day birding with friends and taking Nature photographs. While we're observing fairly decent species diversity, numbers of individuals are still significantly lower than what we generally see by this date. Though some people have encountered their first Baltimore Orioles of spring, I'm still waiting.

With an absurdly uncomplicated and unoriginal name, the Black-and-white Warbler is a visual stunner against green vegetation. It's one of the most abundant warblers I see at the conservancy, but there have only been a few so far. More of them should return once we get another blast of south winds. It doesn't look like that's going to happen tonight, though!

Black-and-white Warbler

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Here's something that doesn't happen very often: a Golden-crowned Kinglet taking a brief rest. I love how its left foot is propped up on a different branch than its right. The kinglet maintained this position for nearly a minute before it resumed foraging close to the ground for insects. We were a little surprised to see it, as most of its kin have already migrated through our area.

Palm Warbler

Spring Palm Warblers have always struck me as looking a bit unfinished. While its face, crown, breast, and rump are brightly colored, the back of the head, nape, tail, and wings are somewhat drab. This is the western subspecies, which doesn't have as much yellow as the eastern or "Yellow" Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum hypochrysea). The two races have almost totally separate breeding ranges, though they overlap on their wintering grounds.

I watched, photographed, and admired as the busy little bird sallied out to catch insects on the wing, swiftly returning to its perch to sing. It isn't the most melodious of songs, but watching any bird sing with such zeal is always rewarding.

Though I am entertained, singing is serious business for birds, serving both courtship and territorial defense. One can't help but wonder what a bird actually feels when singing. They seem happy, don't they? Interestingly, scientific studies show that male birds undergo changes to the dopamine receptors on neurons associated with reward and pleasure when singing directly to a female. Surely something else is going on when they're defending their patch of habitat from an intruder.

There's a lot of singing in early May. Thus far it's been relatively easy to pick out individuals in the morning choir, but that's going to change pretty soon. In another week or so, there will be over 20 different kinds of warblers and around 50 other songbirds singing in concert along the creek corridor. Sifting through the songs for that Kentucky or Connecticut Warbler is part of the challenge and fun of birding.

Violet sp.

Pheasant Branch, Dane, Wisconsin, US
May 3, 2017 6:30 AM - 10:00 AM
55 species

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Broad-winged Hawk
Sandhill Crane
Spotted Sandpiper
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Least Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Blue-headed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
American Crow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Tree Swallow
Barn Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
European Starling
Northern Waterthrush
Black-and-white Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Palm Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Chipping Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Swamp Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

All images © 2017 Mike McDowell

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