There is no better place in New York State to see both Cerulean and Hooded Warblers than Doodletown Road in Rockland County. Wait, Doodletown? Corey’s gone off the deep end and is just making stuff now isn’t he? No, I’m not, and if you want evidence, well, Mike visited this Important Bird Area back in August of 2003 (I didn’t even know the internet existed back then!). Anyway, fellow Queens birder Danny Melore and I made the trip up there this morning and braved the extreme heat and blazing sun in the hopes of tracking down both species of wood-warbler on their breeding territories.
We arrived at the entrance to Doodletown Road at the relatively (for birders) late time of 10:30. We were greeted by singing Yellow Warblers, Indigo Buntings, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Good birds all, but not what we were there to see. We made our way up the somewhat steep trail to the abandoned town, hearing and seeing Scarlet Tanagers, Blue-winged Warblers, and Chipping Sparrows along the way.
Then I caught some movement up ahead of us along the trail and put my bins up to see a gorgeously-plumaged male Hooded Warbler but by the time I choked out to Danny what I was seeing the bird had flown. It then hid deep in the woods and taunted Danny with its song. I wanted to get Danny on the bird, seeing as I had seen one this year and Danny hadn’t, but it was not meant to be. The bird stayed hidden and we moved on.
We ran into some other birders and while we spoke a Cerulean Warbler sang over and over again from somewhere in the canopy but never revealed itself. When six pairs of eyes aided by powerful optics can’t find a singing bird for nearly ten minutes, well, that’s why seeing a Cerulean Warbler is such a treat. Danny and I moved on, hearing another Cerulean but unable to find the darn thing, no matter how hard we tried.
Eventually I managed to get brief, unrewarding glimpses of the bird as it moved between leaves in the canopy but that put me two wood-warblers up on Danny and that is just not fair. The bird flew away from us so we moved down the trail to a trail intersection and suddenly we could hear one bird singing in front of us in the canopy and one behind us in the canopy. Then one bird dropped to within six meters of the ground and we both got on it and got great looks as it foraged and sang in the bright sunlight.
Danny had a grin on his face like a starving child in a candy store and I’m pretty sure mine mirrored his. But the best was yet to come. A female Cerulean came through with food in her mouth and a male gave chase, but was soon chased himself by the other male. The two males proceeded to give us an amazing show, flying from branch to branch directly over our heads, calling and singing and basically making every field-guide author who ever said that Cerulean Warblers rarely leave the canopy a liar. It was, to say the least, amazing. By the time I thought to unlimber my camera (which felt like an hour later but was probably less than a minute) the shot below was the best I could get, but the memory of seeing three Cerulean Warblers in such cool interactions will stay with me for as long as I am a birder.
After that experience anything would have been anticlimactic, so the Black Vulture amid the Turkey Vultures we saw soaring overhead on the way down the trail was kind of ho-hum, as were more brief looks at our fourth Cerulean Warbler of the day. And though we heard several more Hooded Warblers none of them showed themselves, but Danny didn’t seem to mind.
A quick stop over at Mine Road did not net us a Golden-winged Warbler but we did see this nice Eastern Kingbird.
The sun was shining, we were overheated, and we wanted to beat rush hour traffic getting back into the city so we called it a day. But any day that involves multiple looks at multiple Cerulean Warblers, well, yeah, it’s a good day.