Saturday, April 27, 2013

Where the warblers are

prairie warbler

Once again, spring migration is upon us. And to many of us, the creme de la creme, the icing on the migration cake, is warblers in their breeding plumage. It's not that I don't appreciate other types of birds. Of course I do. But to me, "warblers" and "spring" are pretty much synonymous.

Last year, the spring warbler phenomenon wasn't much to speak of. Many central Illinois birder commented how they seemed to fly right past us, so I knew I wasn't the only one. Still, that wasn't much consolation!

This year, over the past week or two, my personal sightings have started to trickle in. A couple of weeks ago, I got my first of year pine warbler at Sand Ridge and my first northern parula at Weldon Springs. Then last weekend, I added some palm warblers. Some lunch break birding last week added a splendid yellow warbler, and then yesterday at Friends Creek Park in Macon County I saw my FOY common yellowthroat and northern waterthrush.

These are all nice birds, but when it comes to warblers, I am greedy. I want mixed feeding flocks of splendid males...and I was especially hoping for four species in particular, which would all be life birds: yellow-throated, prairie, Kentucky and cerulean.

Finally, I decided that if the warblers would not come to me, I would have to go to where the warblers are, and according to the ebird alerts I get daily in my in-box, most central Illinois warblers were showing up at Busey Woods, an urban park in Champaign-Urbana, not too far from where I live, with the added attraction of some nice restaurants and shopping to boot.

At one point, I would probably have been surprised that the best birding is found in a city park. But I have since learned that these small oases, surrounded by traffic and concrete, often offer great birding, as all birds migrating over the cities have limited places to land. (The documentary Birders: The Central Park Effect is a great demonstration of this. Central Park is a birding hotspot because of, not in spite of, the fact that its surrounded by miles of urban wasteland...from a migrating bird's point of view.)

So off I went this morning, with my ever-obliging husband Greenturtle along for the fun. (He also took all the photos accompanying this post, which I appreciate, as it leaves my attention free to focus on the birds.)

Busey Woods is a 59 acre urban oasis in the heart of Champaign-Urbana, a nice patch of woods with a nature center attached. We had been there once before, for a quick stroll while we were waiting for our parrot to be examined at the U of I small animal clinic; unfortunately, at that time, I was a bit preoccupied, and did not really enjoy the park as much as I could have, although I did wonder why so much of it was traversed by a boardwalk.

Well, this trip answered that question...after all the spring rains we've been having, much of the woods is under water...great for prothonotary warblers, of which two or three were in evidence.

an unusual prothonotary warbler

We got terrific views of this one. I do wonder if this particular individual is an unusual variant or perhaps even a hybrid, as I have never seen a prothonotary with a "cap" before. In any case, he was very blase about the humans around him. Greenturtle commented on how "tame" some of these birds seemed.

Probably, the reason for that is twofold--the migrating birds are tired and hungry. Their main concern is finding enough food to continue on their journey, so they probably aren't paying much attention to some random humans. Also, as far as they know, humans aren't a big threat. The harm we do to warblers, we mostly do behind their backs, so to speak: destroying habitat, placing barriers like skyscrapers and wind turbines in their way, releasing our felines upon them, etc. To look at us, staring at them with amazement and admiration, who would think we had done them such harm?

Other great first of year birds I saw at the park were white-throated vireo, gray catbird, and two green herons.

green heron

Even some old favorites showed up in endearing ways, such as this bathing white-throated sparrow.

It's all too easy to overlook such common birds, until they do something so cute.

And saving the best till last, right as we were getting ready to leave the park, we saw my "life bird" prairie close that I almost stepped on it. Another great birding day in central Illinois!

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely post, and great photos! I am practically salivating with anticipation of all the FOY birds I'll see when I visit! Up here, in the U.P., the snow has begun to melt, exposing nice wet and muddy patches for the robins, and some luscious bugs are flying around, too, for their delectation. Now I can just enjoy them, and not fret and want to rush out with hot water bottles and blankets and a bowl of worm mush! SO hoping to see a prairie warbler; what a beautiful bird. MOM