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Warbler Week (and more)

The first two to three of weeks of May, and possibly beginning a little before, are migration time here in Michigan. During those weeks, many bird species leave their southern winter homes and travel north to breed and raise their young through the spring and summer months. Some of those species call our area home during the summer, but many of them are just passing through, making these weeks a special time for Michigan birders.

Calvin and I planned for this. So as not to miss it when it happened, we started early, and caught some of the early returning species even a week or so ago, like the yellow and yellow-rumped warblers. We also read through our bird guides so that we'd (hopefully) recognize some of the visiting species when we saw them. Our trip to Independence Lake last Sunday yielded no new results, but, determined not to miss anything, we got up early on Monday to go for a birding hike at Dolph. It was the first time we'd planned an early hike, getting out of the house before Jon, even, and before doing any school work, and how fortuitous a decision that was. Unbeknownst to us the bird train had arrived overnight, and when we pulled into the small dirt parking lot, we found ourselves swept up in a tide of binocular sporting enthusiasts. Apparently the first to arrive, having sensed (or spotted) the presence of a multitude of migrators, had texted a group message to the Audubon Club and they were arriving quickly by droves. 

Finding ourselves swept up with the Audubon Club was extremely informative. After our success on Monday (we saw 42 species of bird, 13 of those being warblers, and 19 of them migrators), we repeated our morning hikes every day of the week and ran into lots of Audubon members and other birders every single time. Being relatively new to the hobby, there is a lot for us to learn, and many of the people we met were both nice and helpful. I say many, because amongst the things I learned is the sort of side fact that, for some, birding is an exclusive and competitive hobby. I'm not exactly sure how that works, but there definitely birders who seemed miffed by our presence in the tightly clustered packs vying for views of the trees. But for every snooty birder, there were at least three friendly ones, and one or two really, really nice ones. We especially loved the city ornithologist (who knew the city had an ornithologist?), who spent a lot of time talking to Calvin about species, binoculars, and places to go viewing.

We also learned a lot about what to look for when trying to quickly ID a bird. Mostly I try to take pictures, even if they are quick, blurry shots, so that I can ID birds at home, at my leisure, with my trusty books at hand, but we've learned now to look not just at color, but at shape. And there are specific features that help a lot with identification, too, like placement of color, depth of color, presence/absence of color bands on wings, presence/absence of stripes on the breast, presence/absence of eye rings (color circle around the eyes) or eye bands (color line through the eye), etc., etc, plus location of bird in the forest, behavioral clues, shape of the bird, and, of course, it's song.

But that's a lot of information, and we're still trying to absorb it all and put it to good use. So, without further ado, here is a photographic list of several of the unique species (I left out the standards like Robins, Jays, geese, etc.) that we saw through what I am now referring to as Warbler Week:

Warblers first:

American Redstart (summer resident)

Black-and-white Warbler (summer resident)

Black-throated Blue Warbler (migrator)

Black-throated Green Warbler (migrator)

Blackburnian Warbler (migrator, identifiable by his orange chin)

Cape May Warbler (migrator)

Chestnut-sided Warbler (migrator, possible summer resident on edge of range)

Magnolia Warbler (migrator)

Nashville Warbler (migrator)

Northern Parula (migrator)

Palm Warbler (migrator)

Wilson's Warbler (migrator)

Yellow Warbler (summer resident)

Yellow-rumped Warbler (summer resident)

Vireos and Flycatchers (two other families of relatively small treetop birds):

Blue-headed Vireo (migrator)

Philadelphia Vireo (migrator)

Warbling Vireo (summer resident)

Yellow-throated Vireo (summer resident, identifiable by the strong black line through the eye)

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (summer resident)

Eastern Wood-pewee (summer resident)

Great Crested Flycatcher (summer resident)

Small birds of various other families

House Wren (summer resident)

Lincoln's Sparrow (migrator)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (migrator)

Larger tree-top birds

Scarlet Tanager (summer resident)

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (summer resident)

Downy Woodpecker (resident, and not rare, but I just learned to distinguish him from the Hairy Woodpecker by the black spots on the white lateral (outer) tail feathers)

Baltimore Oriole (summer resident)

Species that reside in the lower brush

Green Heron (summer resident)

Gray Catbird (summer resident)

Brown Thrasher (summer resident)

Eastern Towhee (summer resident)

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