Much ado has been made about the confusing nature of wood-warblers on their way south in the fall. They no longer have the distinctive colors and markings of breeding plumage and juveniles with their even more obscure plumages are thrown into the mix. Usually, however, with a decent enough look at a wood-warbler it is rather easy to figure out exactly what species the bird is. The problem is getting that decent view.

Whether big leaves or back lighting are obscuring the little bird you are trying to identify or the hyperactivity of the bird itself prevents you from obtaining that ideal look sometimes you just have to let the bird get away and write it in the notebook as unidentified. But what happens when you get sustained looks at a bird, and even pictures, clear ones at that, and you still walk away not entirely sure what bird it was that you just spent ten minutes staring at?

That just happened to me today at Jamiaca Bay. At first I thought I had a Tennessee Warbler but the wing bars and lack of a strong light supercilium eliminated that species. Then I was thinking Blackpoll Warbler or Bay-breasted Warbler but I quickly eliminated Bay-breasted as the color wasn’t right and the undertail was a nice crisp white. Now I’m thinking it was maybe a Pine Warbler, but I still think that Blackpoll Warbler is the most likely identification as Pine Warblers have cheeks “sharply set off from throat and bordered behind by pale upward extension from rear of throat.” At least, according to A Field Guide to Warblers of North America in the Peterson Field Guides series. But then again, the tail seems a bit long for a Blackpoll Warbler. And, on the other hand, it never pumped its tail like I would expect a Pine Warbler to. Aaaarrrgghhh!

Anyway, if you are already sick of football’s opening Sunday (American football to our real football-loving visitors), take a gander at the pictures I shot of this obscurely-marked warbler and let me know what you think. Did I make the right call? Am I an idiot? Or some combination of the two?

Fall Warbler 2

Fall Warbler 1

Fall Warbler 3

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.