The Core Team May warbler blitz continued unabated this weekend. We were joined by Seth, who has, at long last, succumbed to the sweet siren song of birding. He’s even started his life list, so we tried to pad it as thoroughly as we could with the pulchritudinous passerines of spring migration.
Saturday found us yet again at Inwood Hill Park. Of course, we spotted starlings, pigeons, doves, catbirds, grackles, blackbirds, cardinals, robins, blue jays, and mockingbirds, along with the expected three species of woodpecker. The usual Mallard, Canada Goose, Double-crested Cormorant, and Great Egret were joined by mature and juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron. Another bird that’s flown its way into the “common” category this month is the Baltimore Oriole. We’ve viewed these astonishing orange avians everywhere lately. This time we even found one sitting in its pendulous nest.
Inwood Hill still had some warblers to deliver, as we picked up single sightings of two more lifers. The first was a Black-throated Green Warbler that hung around long enough for all of us to get great views. The next was new to all of us, a brilliant black, white, and gold Yellow-throated Warbler. Black-and-white, Blackpoll, and Canada Warbler rounded out the day’s warbler list. Other pleasant additions were Eastern Kingbird, Scarlet Tanager, Carolina Wren, Barn Swallow, Chimney Swift, and both Red-eyed and Warbling Vireo. We also saw plenty of flycatchers, but besides the obvious Great Crested Flycatcher, I just didn’t feel up to identifying them.
On Sunday, we visited Sterling Forest State Park, a prominent birding location well north of NYC. Sterling Forest is known for its breeding populations of Golden-winged, Blue-winged, and Cerulean Warblers, all of which we inexplicably failed to find. We experienced a fantastic day of birding nonetheless. The main revelation of the day was the incredible Indigo Bunting. This beautiful bird is as blue as they come, an intense, unbroken azure that extends from top to tail. We’ve heard reports of frequent bunting sightings all month, but never saw a single one until yesterday. The wait was well worth it, although a funny thing happened from the first time we saw an indigo bunting early in the morning to the umpteenth time we spotted it as the day progressed. We’ve only experienced this phenomenon a few times before, where a new bird, through its sheer ubiquity, crosses the line from amazing to annoying. As much as we loved the indigo bunting, we’d have enjoyed it more had we enjoyed it less.
Another extremely common bird was the Yellow Warbler. With bright plumage the color of sunflowers adorned by rich red streaks on its breast, the yellow warbler is always pleasant company. Usually, we only spot one or two during an outing. This time, we were surrounded by them. A great lesson to take from this is that almost every species is abundant somewhere.
Along with the yellow warbler, we saw Black-and-white, American Redstart, and, as usual, a couple of new species. The Prairie Warbler, olive with rust streaks above, yellow with black streaks below, appeared often to other birders this weekend, but only popped up once for us. However, a single excellent sighting of a male in full plumage singing in the sun is enough for us. That’s what we got with the prairie and that’s what we got with the Chestnut-sided Warbler, a bird we’ve been eager to view. This exquisite avian sports an unusual lemon yellow cap along with the rich brown flanks for which it is named. Brilliant!
The day’s list included all of the commons from the previous day, along with more Baltimore Oriole, Eastern Kingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, and Scarlet Tanager. Abundant Red-tailed Hawk and Turkey Vulture circled overhead. American Goldfinch, Tree Swallow, Eastern Towhee, Great Blue Heron, and also Cedar Waxwing made the scene. We spotted a couple of Ruby-throated Hummingbird buzzing about amidst the trees, always a welcome change from seeing them at feeders. Last but certainly not least was a group of Black-billed Cuckoo. Though we’ve spotted one Squirrel Cuckoo high in the canopy of the Belizean rain forest, we despaired of ever spotting any of the two, ostensibly common northeastern U.S. species. Now that one of these sleek beauties has gorged itself on a fat green caterpillar from a branch no more than ten feet away from us, we need despair no longer!
So, our magical May migration has come to an end. We’ve had the pleasure of watching a plentitude of birds this month, including 18 new species. Our focus on colorful songbirds paid off handsomely, as 11 of these lifers were the warblers we so ardently sought. Who knows what excitement June holds?