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Delightful Spring

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Oh, what a delightful migration we've had. We've been busy, but have been home more than any May in memory. So I've had time to plant and weed and mulch and till and mow--all the things that somehow have to be added into the mix come spring. That makes me a much happier camper than when we run all over the country working festivals. I'm beginning to see what I should be doing less, what I should be doing more.

Going out to photograph birds with Bill in the morning is just about my favorite thing. We don't forget for a second how blessed we are that we can do this right outside our house, on this sanctuary we've made. Little visitors pass through and we try to capture their images, to show you these things we cherish. It isn't easy. Ask Bill of the Birds.

Pine siskins have finally left as of today. I wouldn't be too surprised to find them nesting around here, as they're nomadic little things, subject to whim. They share the Spa with a tired Gouty, the bluebird who's feeding four fledged daughters.

A red-bellied woodpecker has chosen the gutter over Phoebe's window for a drumming site.

He looks proud of himself at the end of each BRRUUUUUUMMMMPPP! Luckily, he drums after she's off to school, but she's not going to like it very much come summer vacation. These shots were taken from the birding tower, a perspective we don't often get on woodpeckers.

Discoveries await everywhere I turn. I heard a gnatcatcher's purr, looked up, saw this shredded bark and mused, "Ahh, nesting time. Everyone's gathering nesting material."
And there was the gnatcatcher, so I watched him until he led me to his nest.

It's done, and he plops right into it to incubate the eggs. See his tail sticking up like a popsicle stick?

Here's a closer look. Of all the birds that nest here, the blue-gray gnatcatcher reveals its nest the most readily. It's almost as if they're proud of it, the way they carry on and show it to you.
It's been the best spring for Blackburnian warblers that I can remember. That doesn't mean I've gotten stunning shots, but I keep trying.

Soon, the migrants will be gone altogether, but for now we seek them out and enjoy them while we can.

I've spent the day painting a beach scene with Caspian terns. I have to stretch way back in my memory to get the feel of the beach, but it's coming together nicely. The trick being not to get too tense and tight. Gotta let paint be paint. I've also been on the phone with Customer Service at Uncle Milton's, the manufacturer of the Pet's Eye View camera Chet used until it finked out on us. I gave them my blog URL, which is being passed around their HQ as we speak, and have high hopes they'll see the eminent sense of replacing this wondrous but broken little thing. I've gotten only four sessions out of it and am hungry for more. I keep seeing golden opportunities to send Chet Baker on photo safari.


Now, see, I've always thought the problem was in letting paint be paint. I want to be in command. This may be why I always have to give my paintings away.

Improve. Long hot day with the alligators, sorry.

I like the idea of letting Chet's images speak for themselves to the camera manufacturer. Maybe he can become a sort of test model/spokesdoggeh for their product as they imrove upon it. Shrewd thinking!

Hmmm...Chet will need his own blog soon! The greenery and birds are wonderful on your land.

Beautiful scenes of the home stretch, Julie! Isn't spring grand?

And with any luck, your woodpecker will have drummed up a mate and be finished with his early-morning percussions by the time school lets out.

Please, please Uncle Milty. Can Chet Baker have a new pet cam? I might just buy a horse cam if you are nice to Chet Baker.

Chet's blog. I can imagine that.

You certainly do live in a birdy spot. If I saw a Blackburnian here my knees would buckle.

Your boy is on my blog today. Check it out.

Enjoy spring!


Hi Julie -

I'm glad to see you're getting some 'down time' in May (it is such a busy month with kids and school not to mention BIRDS ;-)
Love your gnatcatcher nest with the popsicle tail - so cool!

Thank you so much for the info about the Gilbertson HS trap.

I have a question:
This morning I heard a black-throated warbler. I had my birdjam loaded ipod - so I quickly played the song. Immediately what I thought was BTG flew to a tree beside me. I had my camera and took a few shots. I noticed the BTG was calling back to the birdjam with the exact same call (why not, right?) Well, when I looked at the pictures - it was a yellow-throated warbler instead! I then listened to it's song and they don't sound alike at all. So...why was a yellow-throat singing and responding to a BTG song? I'm just learning 'all things warbler' - so it is exciting and new to me!
I'll check back for your 'enlightenment' :-)
P.S. I would love to hear you read me warbler stories every night before I go to bed - haha!Somehow I can't get my hubby to do that ;-) When you were reading at the Cathedral Cafe - I was thinking how your kids must love to hear you read!

Great photo of the blackburnian! They are so hard to capture, flitting around the treetops. You live in such a wonderful place...

How fortunate you are indeed to have your very own sanctuary Julie and can walk out your back door with your sweetie to enjoy the day. :c)

Dear Barb,

I do not know why a yellow-throated warbler would both give the song of a BTGR and respond to the recording...but suspect, with all due respect to my Bird Girl, that pilot error cannot be ruled out ;-)

Hi Julie -
Confirming my suspicion that this would not be normal behavior--I would say the same thing if I were you...but I have the pictures to prove it and this bird is clearly a yellow-throat. I may go back to the same spot and see if I can video tape the bird singing the wrong song ;-) That does sound ridiculous, doesn't it?

OK, Barb, game on. But first, let's establish if the bird is a Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) or a Yellow-throated Warbler
(Dendroica dominica). I'd have a lot easier time believing a Common Yellowthroat would sing an aberrant or imitative song than believing that a Yellow-throated Warbler would. I've been laboring under the impression you were describing the latter (Dendroica dominica).

It may seem like I'm splitting hairs, but it matters to the discussion.

Turbo Science Chimp

Hi Julie -
I didn't get a chance to go out this morning - but I plan to go tomorrow.
This bird is not a common yellowthroat ( they are indeed quite common here and I know them well). I have read that the BTGR does nest in the area where I played the ipod. Just as soon as it heard the first few call notes - it came flying almost right at me! And I could hear the bird returning the same BTGR call after I turned the ipod off! While I was looking through the lens - I kept thinking - why is this bird's throat YELLOW if it is a BTGR? But then I'd never seen the female or first year I just took for granted that it was the right bird for the song. Later down the trail I sat down and played back the pictures...zoomed in and I thought right away that it looked like a Yellow-throated warbler. The reason I thought that??? I went to Central Park in April and had an extensive photo shoot with the Yellow-throated (no ipod - it was just there!) I then decided to compare the two songs and they did not sound at all alike. So there ya have it.
Here is a link to one of my Yellow-throated from CP - the markings are darker and the yellow throat is more contained.

Here is a link to what I think is a BTGR. Let me know what you think.

And thanks for your TIME!

All right. I think I'm beginning to figure out what's going on. The first link in your comment goes to photos of a bona-fide yellow-throated warbler. I'm assuming this is the Central Park bird.

The second link you gave me goes to a bunch of pictures of an immature male or female Blackburnian warbler. You identify it as being "what I think is a BTGR." ?? Well, it's a Blackburnian. Note the small, short bill (in contrast to the yellow-throated warbler's long, sharp bill), and the streaked back (the yellow-throated warbler has a plain gray back). The yellow is altogether different, too, more vivid and intense in both sexes of YTWA; buttery, diffuse and pale in a young male Blackburnian.

The Blackburnian has a song that is very similar indeed to that of a black-throated green warbler. It doesn't surprise me that it would respond to a recording of a black-throated green warbler.

I hope this clears up the mystery. Birds are rarely mistaken about what they say, while we get confused pretty easily.

Well, 'blow me down and call me shortie' (you're too young to know that is a line from old Popeye cartoons).
Now that DOES make sense! Consider yourself a big bird brain ;-) Before I asked you...I sent a picture of the bird in question to Charlie Haynes from birdjam and he said it was indeed a yellow-throated warbler.
I am so excited that you figured that out and so easily!!! After I read your response - I went back and looked at other pictures and I could see where some of the white on the face was turning with tiny bit of yellowish orange coming in.
Blackburnian was a lifer for me at New River so I am not familiar at all with them - the only bummer about the whole incident is that I got some nice pictures of a Blackburnian that doesn't look like a Blackburnian - big fat bummer!
But thank you so much for solving my mystery - it was drivin' me crazy! And I have learned something valuable!
This would be a good picture to use on a warbler ID quiz ;-)
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Do you think I should write and tell Charlie or would that be rude?

Me again, Julie :-)

I went back this morning to find this crazy bird. When I got close to the site - I heard the BTGR singing. Instead of playing it on the ipod I played the Blackburnian - I waited - played it again - nothing. Then I played the BTGR song. What you say is "an immature male or female Blackburnian" came flying in like a bomber - immediately! I was able to get a video. Be patient because the little bugger got a big 'ole caterpillar at the beginning but this bird sings and you can see and hear it clearly. Let me know what you think. To me, at least on the birdjam - the Blackburnian and BTGR don't sound similar. But I can only go by birdjam comparisons since I certainly do not have enough field experience. Am I crazy or is this bird crazy. I promise not to bother you anymore ;-)

Have a Happy Memorial Day weekend!

Laughing out loud, watching this wonderful video--first, he bangs the hair off it and eats a whole durn tent caterpillar, singing with his mouth full, and then gives voice to an almost letter-perfect black-throated green warbler song. No pilot error here!

I have two suggestions for why he's doing this: First, at an impressionable time in his nestlinghood, this young Blackburnian heard and picked up the song of a black-throated green. I fear he's going to have a hard time attracting a lady friend, singing the wrong song.

Second, and perhaps more likely, is that he is a hybrid BTGW x BBWA. Do I see a hint of green on his upper back? It's odd that he wouldn't have a yellow eyebrow, a large white wing panel, or some other hint that he's a hybrid, but the possibility is there.

You've made such a wonderful find, and I salute your persistence and skill in capturing the images and video. I'm going to send this to a friend or two and see what they think.

Go Barbi! Go Barbi! You rock!

Hey Julie & Barb--

What an amazing bird you have there, Barb! Julie, thanks for alerting me to it...I've been out in the field so much recently (good thing) that I've really fallen behind on blogging & blog reading (bad things).

I'm going to suggest an alternate take on this guy, though I certainly see where the Blackburnian looks and Black-throated Green voice have led to speculation that those are the parents.

What I see--beyond the obvious overall Yellow-throated/Blackburnian look, is the genetic signature of Northern Parula. This comes through most clearly in the yellow toes, (mostly) yellow lower mandible, and greenish back patch. The unstreaked flanks are also suggestive of parula.

Moreover, the structure shows a lot of parula characters: short tail, round head, sharply pointed bill. Overall size appears small, though that's infamously hard to judge from photos, even really good ones like these.

So, I feel really good about my working hypothesis that one parent is a parula. What about the other?

I'll be the first to admit that I'm largely going on gut reactions here, but I'm inclined to set aside the vocal evidence (something I never, ever do--can't even believe I'm writing it!) and go with Yellow-throated Warbler.

Yellow-throated Warbler X Northern Parula is a celebrated, though rare hybrid combination, called "Sutton's" Warbler in honor of the great bird artist. What is especially puzzling to me is that the little I can find on Sutton's suggests that they tend to favor the Yellow-throated side of their heritage (big bill especially) which this bird clearly does not.

Then there's the matter of the song. It really does sound like one of Black-throated Green's songs--Sutton's apparently usually does a parula-like trill, but doubled.

So some of the puzzle pieces truly do not seem to fit. It's true that oscine passerines learn, rather than inherit their songs, so it's at least conceivable that the song is a total red herring as far as the identity.

It would be fascinating, Barb, if you could get some video of the bird calling; i.e., giving chip notes. Since these simpler calls are apparently hard-wired, they might tell us something. I'd also be a little curious about what the bird would do if you played some Northern Parula song to it.

Anyhow, that's what I can get out of it on a quick look and listen. I'd really like for other observers to weigh in on it, too--it is indeed a puzzlingly wonderful individual.

I would suggest posting a note about your sighting and links to the photos and video to the ID-FRONTIERS listserv. That will put it in front of lots of very talented observers and will almost certainly generate some interesting feedback. For instance, I'd like somebody who has banded a lot of warblers to comment on the undertail pattern--that could be helpful.

I can help you do that posting, if you like. E-mail me at

Barb & Julie, thanks for sharing this with all of us. Very, very cool!

Good birding,

Jeffrey A. Gordon

I love it, I love it, I love it. Sutton's warbler never crossed my mind, but it seems an eminently plausible possibility, and the part I especially appreciate is that it goes back to your original supposition, Barb, that you were looking at a yellow-throated warbler. Or at least half of one.

Wonder if anyone can explain why he's singing like a BTGR?

It's beginning to look like I've been exactly no help in figuring out what this bird really is...other than to know enough to turn it over to a silverback Science Chimp. I suspect this little bird will light up some listservs. Keep in touch, Barb, and let me know what you find out? It would be cool to know if this bird ever successfully pairs up, and what his reaction would be to songs of either of his two putative parent species (YTWA and NOPA).

Bob Mulvahill of Powdermill Nature Center in PA would be a wonderful resource, too.

Good luck! and thanks, Jeff, for weighing in. Like many mysteries, it's only deepening with investigation.

Hi Julie & Jeff -

I am now more confused than ever - but excited at the same time ;-) asked about other sounds. Go listen to this video - drag the slider almost to the end of the movie and you will hear a very pretty trill or some kind of sound other than that BTGR song. This might help.

Also - I have lots of other pictures - what do you need to see that could help with further ID?
Thanks for your input, Jeff! And thank you Julie for hanging in there and keeping an open mind with a very inexperienced warbler gal!

As the (warbler) world turns...

Julie - You'll be glad to know that one of the guys on my local PA Audubon bird list forwarded the info to Kenn Kaufman and though he said he looked at it almost as he was running out the door (busy weekend for sure) He thinks one of the parents could be - the BLACKBURNIAN! I'll keep you posted!

Hello again--

I think KK nailed it. I was too quick to go to Sutton's--those skids are already a little greased. But the streaked back and the utter lack of Yellow-throated structure makes Y-t a less than great candidate.

Blackburnian, though, explains a lot. Especially the face pattern and back streaking.

No wonder, JZ, that you were getting so much Blackburnian out of it. Looks like maybe we were both half right. I hope that a few of the other big dogs will bark a little on this one.

Staying tuned,


Aggh! So what's the other parent? I still like your suggestion of parula as one parent--the yellow mandible and yellow legs/feet, plus the little triangle of olive on the back... Could Blackburnian x black throated green be a possibility? That crazy song has to come from somewhere, doesn't it?

Still loving it,


I'd love to see your painting of Caspian Terns on the 'memory' of the beach. If you post a digital image of your work it would likely make a wonderful addition to my blog and

Caspian Terns in my opinion can make just about any beach scene just a little bit better!

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