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.

Ovenbird in mangroves

An Ovenbird perches on a mangrove root, yesterday morning at Ocean Bay Riverside on the shores of the Indian River Lagoon on Hutchinson Island in St. Lucie County.

I followed a couple of these charming little birds for a while, trying to get a few good shots in the dim light of a foggy early morning.

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, All About Birds

The Ovenbird’s rapid-fire teacher-teacher-teacher song rings out in summer hardwood forests from the Mid-Atlantic states to northeastern British Columbia. It’s so loud that it may come as a surprise to find this inconspicuous warbler strutting like a tiny chicken across the dim forest floor. Its olive-brown back and spotted breast are excellent disguise as it gleans invertebrates from the leaf litter.

A tiny chicken, I love it. But why is it called an OVENBIRD?

Its nest, a leaf-covered dome resembling an old-fashioned outdoor oven, gives the Ovenbird its name.

I have seen and photographed an Ovenbird just once before, on North Hutchinson Island (also known as Orchid Island) in Vero Beach, at Captain Forster Hammock Preserve, in September 2019, posted here: Not the hammock you swing in. But that photo was not really in focus, so let me add this focused Ovenbird to my collection.

Ovenbirds winter in Florida, Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America. At Ocean Bay they are seen mid-April through mid-May, then again late September through October.

Seiurus aurocapilla is in its own genus, genetically distinct from the rest of Parulidae, the New World warblers.

I like butterbutts and I cannot lie

Butterbutt!

I was peering up into the tree shade, trying to figure out what all the little brown birds were when this one turned to flash his signature “butterbutt” in my direction: Yellow-rumped Warbler!

I did not invent the butterbutt nickname; it’s a birder thing. I was lucky enough to learn it on a field trip a couple of years ago.

You can see a bit of yellow under the wings too. These birds have more striking colors in summer breeding season, but we only see them here in winter.

They were attracted to this tree because of its ripening berries. (I’m not sure if it’s a banyan or some other type of fig, gotta work on that ID.) It stands near the freshwater pond at Indian Riverside Park

This bird has one berry in its mouth and one clutched in its right foot.

YRWs are fairly large compared to other warblers and can digest waxy fruits that other warblers can’t. This allows them to “winter” farther north than most other warblers. In summer they mainly eat insects.

Yellow-rumped Warblers flit through the canopies of coniferous trees as they forage. They cling to the bark surface to look for hidden insects more than many warblers do, but they also frequently sit on exposed branches and catch passing insects like a flycatcher does. In winter, Yellow-rumped Warblers join flocks and switch to eating berries from fruiting shrubs. Sometimes the flocks are enormous groups consisting entirely of Yellow-rumped Warblers.

I could only find Yellow-rumped Warblers in this tree, not other birds. This one came quite close and was easy to photograph.

While foraging, they were making chek calls like this.

Three little birds

I leaned back in a chair on the patio, looked up, and waited for a bird to come into the sunny spot overhead. Lights, camera, action… Palm Warbler.

When the sun first hits the tree tops is the best time to see and hear the variety of small songbirds arriving for the winter, or passing through on their way further south.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are familiar winter visitors – easy to hear, harder to see.

A tiny, long-tailed bird of broadleaf forests and scrublands, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher makes itself known by its soft but insistent calls and its constant motion. It hops and sidles in dense outer foliage, foraging for insects and spiders. As it moves, this steely blue-gray bird conspicuously flicks its white-edged tail from side to side, scaring up insects and chasing after them.

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher’s grayish coloring and long tail, as well as the way it mixes snippets of other birds’ repertoires into its own high, nasal songs, have earned it the nickname “Little Mockingbird.”

The Northern Parula “hops through branches bursting with a rising buzzy trill that pinches off at the end.”

The warblers are in my yard because of the laurel oak and all the tasty insects and arachnids it hosts. The tree has a tendency to shed many little leaves, even more so at this time of year. But sweeping is a small price to pay for happy warblers and happy warbler watchers.

Listen: Three Little Birds, Bob Marley

Little birds with yellow throats

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A bright yellow throat in morning sun.

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I saw this Yellow-throated Vireo yesterday morning at the edge of the mangroves in Indian Riverside Park, Jensen Beach.

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Such a pure, delicious yellow.

A bird of open deciduous forests and edges, the Yellow-throated Vireo is one of the most colorful member of its family. Not only does this bird have a bright yellow throat, it looks as if it’s wearing bright yellow spectacles.

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Eye rings, wing bars and songs… How to Tell Vireos From Warblers, Flycatchers, and Kinglets

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Another “yellow-throat” was nearby – the Yellow-throated Warbler.

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It’s migration season and I’m heading out the door again soon this morning!

Rest stop for amazing warblers

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Blackpoll Warbler this morning, after yesterday’s rain.

Because their migration paths are different in fall and spring, we only see them here in spring, traveling from the Caribbean and South America north to the Canadian boreal forest.

National Geographic: Amazing: Tiny Birds Fly Without Landing for Three Days

Warblers that weigh about as much as a stack of 12 business cards fly thousands of miles across the Atlantic during their fall migration.

Auld acquaintance: butterbutt

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Yellow-rumped Warbler in the neighbor’s banyan tree yesterday evening near sunset. There were a couple of them flitting around, calling softly. I pished them closer and got a few photos of one of them. (I’m always still surprised when that works.) Unfortunately, no good view of their defining feature, the bright yellow rump patch.

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Yellow-rumped Warblers are here in winter, fly north in April, and return south in late October. Here is a very cool animated map showing the species distribution and relative abundance throughout the 52 weeks of the year in North America.

The Yellow-rumped Warbler is one of the most abundant birds in North America, connecting almost every part of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico during its annual cycle.

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This is the first time I have noticed them in Florida. I first met them in my New Hampshire backyard in October 2016. Warning: gorgeous autumn foliage that will induce intense nostalgia if you have ever lived in NH!.. (But today they are having a blizzard.)

#59 is a butterbutt

Last two days

Reaching the peak

Thank you, little bird, for connecting the old and the new for me.

(This is my 67th Florida bird. My bird total in NH was 64.)

Red-startled

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It thunderstormed and rained hard yesterday as a cool front passed through and after the rain, surprise! there were warblers. Especially noticeable were the American Redstarts flitting around, including this male I photographed across the street.

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Female American Redstart.

American Redstarts are incredibly active insectivores that seem never to stand still. They rapidly spread their cocked tails, exposing the orange or yellow in a quick flash, which often startles insect prey into flushing, whereupon the redstart darts after it, attempting to catch it in the air.

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Bonus photo, flowers!

Plumeria aka frangipani is in bloom. It’s the Hawaiian lei flower.

Warblers abound

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Black-and-white Warbler, in the maple tree right off our back deck.

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Good morning, Common Yellowthroat.

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The male Common Yellowthroat has a black mask, the little bandido bug eater.

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Witchety, witchety, he says.

I saw three males near each other in the underbrush out by our pond this morning. I can hear even more out in the wet woods. A female spotted yesterday in the same area. I suspect some will migrate through and two or three pairs will stay around to nest.

Got some cute photos of an almost- fledgling last summer.

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Rain last night in the perfect amount. Sunny day ahead. Wild blueberries are blossoming.

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Walking the dog out past the pond around 7:15 a.m. I spotted a yellow bird flitting from branch to branch up high in a cherry tree. Distinctive song.

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It’s a Yellow Warbler.

I saw one for the first time last May on a birding trip offshore to Star Island, among the Isles of Shoals. (Here’s a Flickr photo album from that trip.)

This Yellow Warbler counts now as a Backyard Bird on my sidebar… number 48.

Males sing a sweet series of 6–10 whistled notes that accelerate over the course of the roughly 1-second song and often end on a rising note. The tone is so sweet that people often remember it with the mnemonic sweet sweet sweet I’m so sweet. The songs are a common sound of spring and early summer mornings and may be repeated as often as 10 times per minute.

8:50 a.m. BONUS

Just got some photos of an American Redstart in the woods next to our house! I saw two but heard more.

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A lively warbler that hops among tree branches in search of insects, the male American Redstart is coal-black with vivid orange patches on the sides, wings, and tail. True to its Halloween-themed color scheme, the redstart seems to startle its prey out of the foliage by flashing its strikingly patterned tail and wing feathers.