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It’s Warbler Time!

May 1, 2011

You wouldn’t believe how excited I am. Yesterday I identified a YELLOW WARBLER! OK, this is about 80% factually accurate. Someone had heard the yellow warbler’s song, but I was the first to find it! And if it’s the case that you’re having trouble believing that, trust me, you are not alone. Everyone in my group was more or less stunned that I had actually managed to be of birdful use. It was a first on many counts.

Yesterday was a dreamy day for Spring birding. Most trees in Toronto are still bare, so this made finding the birds all that much easier! Though I can’t yet recognize and identify most of what I see (unless it’s a yellow warbler, obviously), I’m getting much better at pointing my binoculars. I did have a few mishaps yesterday, where the striped, swiftly moving, cackling animal turned out to be a chipmunk rather than a sparrow of one sort or another, but these accidents are bound to happen. Please don’t think less of me.

We began our day in Thickson’s Woods in Whitby (world capital of unabashedly cute owls and also the birthplace of Jessica Westhead, awesome Canadian writer whose short story collection, And Also Sharks, you should all read) where we were greeted by copulating chickadees. Apparently the female likes to shake wildly and do a little feverish gig to attract the male who then basically responds by pouncing on her. The whole scene was a little x-rated, but quite educational and it is breeding season after all. So, I wish them all fruitful reproduction.

For all you exacting readers, you might remember that Thickson’s woods was where I caught sight of a winter wren shouting vigorously and couldn’t believe that such a tiny bird could sing at such mind-numbingly high pitch. Not for the faint of heart.

After the chickadee action, we saw countless Yellow-Rumped Warblers (Dendroica coronata). Since the trees were bare, they weren’t that hard to locate in the trees, and after about fifteen minutes of staring up at the heavens, I developed my first neck pain of the season (otherwise known as warbler neck) and immediately felt like a professional birder. The yellow-rumped warblers were exciting until we realized they were ubiquitous: every single bird in every single tree turned out to be a yellow-rumped warbler, and we began to get a little restless.

We also saw an apparently stunning panoply of sparrows, but since I’m a beginning birder, I have to admit the crass reality that all sparrows look the same to me at this point. They’re like hawks and I don’t (yet) see the appeal of the sparrow. So far, I’m all warbler all the time.

And then, just when we began to despair that the yellow-rumped warbler was the only bird left on planet earth, we caught sight of Black and White Warbler! In plain view! After that, things really took off: a brilliant orange Baltimore Oriole against a backdrop of cloudless blue sky and an Orchard Oriole greeted me when I was least expecting them. The Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius) is a life bird for me (not that hard; most birds are life birds for me and that’s the beauty of being a beginning birder!) and I could have stared at the burning shade of its rusty belly for hours. But I was thirsty and hungry and craving my morning cup of coffee and, alas, those absolutely mundane bodily needs took precedence over the sublime rusty hues on the Orchard Oriole.

We headed to Second Marsh in Oshawa after our much needed coffee stop and saw the piece-de-resistance, the Piping Plover (Charadrius melodus ), my first endangered species on my life list! The walk along the rocky shore of Lake Ontario toward a sandy patch was possibly the best part of the day. I admit to being slightly underwhelmed at the sight of the piping plover, but I got excited after realizing that there are only 25 piping plover couples in Ontario!

It was a beautiful day. My neck hurt, I came home muddy and the 5:45 am wake-up-call didn’t even feel like a big deal. I even managed to point my binoculars at a swarm of bugs (when I got tired of looking for warblers), and that’s certainly not something you get to do everyday.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. May 1, 2011 4:34 pm

    What a good day! I was out in the morning, too, and saw several life birds (like you, that’s not hard for me), including a great-crested flycatcher, a blue-green gnatcatcher, and a black-throated green warbler. And we’re overrun with yellow-rumpeds here, too, but I can’t get enough of them. They’re so handsome.

    The only sparrows I can reliably identify so far are house (natch), white-throated, and savannah—I think partly that’s because they’re so often in the brush, and it’s hard to get a good long look at them. Or at least that’s my excuse. You can borrow it if you like. 🙂

    Hooray for spring!

  2. May 2, 2011 6:07 am

    Love the post, Julia! I really enjoy your self-deprecating humor. I can fully relate to not being able to find birds…they are singing, even now, all around me but I cannot see a one. I’d be content to just catch a glimpse of a chipmunk, but I don’t think they live over here.

    • May 2, 2011 12:40 pm

      Thanks so much, Nancy! In all honesty, the chipmunk was nothing but a disappointment…

  3. May 2, 2011 6:38 pm

    P.S. I was worried I sounded douchey up there so I came back to check and indeed—I did. 🙂 Sorry for being all ME TOO ME TOO I SAW THINGS! on your post. Mea culpa. Migration fever.

    P.P.S. I’ve never seen a yellow warbler or an orchard oriole. What beauties!

    • May 3, 2011 12:24 pm

      Meera, your PS made me laugh! No worries! I get so excited whenever I see anything — I basically scream OH MY GOD CAN YOU BELIEVE I SAW THE BIRD, ME THE ONE WHO NEVER SEES THINGS? Totally thrilling for me to see *anything* that’s not a robin or a redwinged blackbird! So now worries at all 🙂

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