Warbler time at Ocean Bay

Cape May Warbler eyeing the fruit on a fig tree.

Ocean Bay Riverside is a red-hot hotspot on eBird right now, during spring migration, as warblers alight in the mangroves and fig trees for rest and refueling before resuming their epic semi-annual treks.

Cape May warblers were there when I stopped by on Sunday.

Many of our migratory warblers seem to lead double lives, and the Cape May is a good example. It summers in northern spruce woods, but winters in the Caribbean, where it is often seen in palm trees. In summer it eats insects, but during migration and winter it varies its diet with nectar from flowers and with juice that it obtains by piercing fruit. Birders easily recognize the tiger-striped males in spring, but drab fall birds can be perplexing.

Northern Parulas are found at Ocean Bay occasionally in winter but especially during migration and not at all during summer.

These wood warblers do breed in other parts of Florida though, mainly central and northern Florida, and all through the American South. They breed in forests where there is plenty of Spanish moss which they use for nest building. LINK.

Perhaps because the Northern Parula is the smallest eastern wood warbler, its wintering population in the United States is largely restricted to subtropical Florida. Curiously, the Northern Parula’s wintering distribution and breeding distribution in Florida hardly overlap.

They also winter in the Caribbean and eastern parts of Mexico and Central America.

This warbler is a female Black-throated Blue. During migration I have consistently spotted BtBs with other warblers like the Cape May, Northern Parula, and American Redstart. I suspect all of these warblers traveling together came from, or through, the Caribbean.

You can help these tiny long-distance travelers by turning off non-essential lights at night. Read about Audubon’s Lights Out program HERE.

Warblers are passing through

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Mixed flocks of migrating warblers graced us with their presence these past few days.

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It was easy to learn this one a few years ago: American Redstart, so boldly black and orange.

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This Black-throated Blue Warbler isn’t too hard to see because it visits lower shrubbery down near eye level.

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Northern Parula was curious and stayed right in a neighbor’s tree while I shot a few pics.

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I heard this bird before I saw it. Its song is a “rising buzzy trill with a final sharp note”.

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All the warblers in this post are males, easier to spot because of colors and sounds.

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Cornell …

The key to finding a Northern Parula during the breeding season is to look for forests draped with long, wispy plants like Spanish moss and “old man’s beard.” Northern Parulas tend to stick to the canopy, which means you may end up with a bit of “warbler neck.” Luckily during migration they also forage lower in the forest giving your neck a break. Parulas sing a lot during migration—so listen up for their distinctive buzzy trill.

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Cape May Warbler. I’ve seen them before but needed an ID doublecheck from What’s This Bird. I guess I haven’t gotten this bird into long-term memory yet. That’s one negative to my method of taking a bunch of photos then IDing the birds using online sources.

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Must learn my warblers.

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Looking up at a warbler… butt.

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The Cape May Warbler breeds across the boreal forest of Canada and the northern United States, where the fortunes of its populations are largely tied to the availability of spruce budworms, its preferred food. Striking in appearance but poorly understood, the species spends its winters in the West Indies, collecting nectar with its unique curled, semitubular tongue.

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These four species of warblers I managed to photograph for this post all winter in the Caribbean. I wonder if they traveled together the whole way?

Audubon.org: Flyways of the Americas. The Black-throated Blue Warbler is featured for the Atlantic Flyway.

When the warblers were in town

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Wednesday morning I went out with my camera to see if the warblers that stopped over after the storms on Tuesday were still here. First, a cardinal in our driveway reminded me that resident birds are special too.

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Mourning dove on a morning walk through leaf litter.

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Red-bellied Woodpecker was dipping his beak into a giant white bird-of-paradise flower… for a drink of water? for insects?

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Black-throated Blue Warbler, a bird-photo first for me!

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A uniquely colored, midnight-blue bird of tangled understories, the male Black-throated Blue Warbler sings a relaxed, buzzy I-am-so-la-zee on warm summer days in Eastern hardwood forests. He’s aptly named, with a midnight blue back, sharp white belly, and black throat. The olive-brown females, while not as dramatically marked as the males, have a unique white square on the wing that readily separates them from other female warblers. This warbler breeds in the East and spends the winter in the Caribbean.

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Black-throated Blue in morning sun. Oh, you beauty.

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Another resident made an appearance on our fence, a Carolina Wren.

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In the banyan, a flash of color that can only be an American Redstart.

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Strike a redstart pose.

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Northern Parula, also a photo first for me.

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An acrobat.

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A small warbler of the upper canopy, the Northern Parula flutters at the edges of branches plucking insects. This bluish gray warbler with yellow highlights breeds in forests laden with Spanish moss or beard lichens, from Florida to the boreal forest, and it’s sure to give you “warbler neck.” It hops through branches bursting with a rising buzzy trill that pinches off at the end. Its white eye crescents, chestnut breast band, and yellow-green patch on the back set it apart from other warblers.

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I think this is a female or immature male Cape May Warbler.

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A few blocks from home, this big tree, banyan or strangler fig, was full of warblers.

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Northern Parula.

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  • Before this species received the name Northern Parula (a diminutive form of parus, meaning little titmouse), Mark Catesby, an English naturalist, called it a “finch creeper” and John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson called it a “blue yellow-backed warbler.”

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This Cape May Warbler was a bit disheveled. Molting?

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Like a teenager who just rolled out of bed.

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Northern Parula-palooza.

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Cape May.

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N.P.

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Cape May in a magnolia.

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Another Black-throated Blue Warbler.

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B-t B.

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That was a fine hour of bird watching.