Tuesday, May 26, 2015

My summer birding project

Cerulean warbler-image from Wikipedia

In birding or other parts of life, I'm always happiest when I have a project. Something concrete, with measurable results. Many birders like to do a "big year" and attempt to see the most birds in their particular area, and I've done that in the past, but tallying up species doesn't really interest me this year. Instead, I want to find as many different species of warbler as I can over the summer breeding season, say, from now till the beginning of August. Maybe I can find ten different species? With a bonus for each one I can locate in my home county of Dewitt (Illinois).

To prepare for this venture, I have consulted one of my favorite books, The Illinois Breeding Bird Atlas (Editor: Thomas Rice, Illinois Natural History Survey). How I love to spend a relaxing evening at home, curled up on the couch looking at maps and tables of breeding birds. (I know this pushes me firmly into "nerd" territory, and I don't care.)

So, possible warblers I could find include:

Blue-winged warbler: prefers to nest in brushy hillsides, successional  fields, and second growth woods. Builds nests in grass or vines on or near the ground. Chances: unlikely but possible. There are a few records on ebird in June for this species, with one sighting (from 2013) occurring at the Parkland Foundation's Merwin Preserve, which is in the county just north of mine. There is a lot of this warbler's favorite habitat to be found in the area.

Northern parula: preferred habitat deciduous bottomlands and along streams in upland ravines. This one's almost guaranteed, as they breed right here in my county (seen in previous years at Weldon Springs and along the North Fork Access trail.)

Yellow warbler: preferred habitat wet second growth woodlands, scrub and riparian thickets. Another easy one, as they are quite common in the area. I know I can find them at the Salt Creek Wetland in Dewitt county or the Schroeder Nature Preserve in McLean county.

Yellow-throated warbler: preferred habitat pine-oak woodlands and river corridors. Chances: pretty good, as I have seen them in July in Macon and Logan counties. I don't find them very often, though, and it would be a new bird for my Dewitt County list, so fingers crossed!

Prairie warbler: preferred habitat dry brushy clearings, second-growth forests and abandoned upland fields. Chances: very slim, although there have been sightings in Coles and Vermilion counties. There's a lot of the habitat they like here in Dewitt county, though, so I can always hope!

my "lifer"...and so far only...prairie warbler
Cerulean warbler: preferred habitat mature deciduous bottomland forest. Chances: not that good, although this is my most-hoped for warbler, both because it would be a "life bird" and because their numbers are dropping so quickly. I can think of several parks/woods with likely habitat, and there are a couple records on ebird for some surrounding counties.

American redstart: preferred habitat open deciduous and mixed forests. Chances: very likely, as I've seen them in the backpack loop of Weldon Springs over the summer in past years, and I just found one hanging out there and singing last weekend, so hopefully they will hang around.

Prothonotary warbler: preferred habitat swamps and flooded bottomland. Chances: would be excellent if I were planning a trip to southern Illinois. Since I'm not, unlikely but possible. A couple years ago there was one that appeared to be nesting at Centennial Park in Heyworth, which is not that far from me.

prothonotary warbler...this one was seen during migration
Worm-eating warbler: preferred habitat extensive mature deciduous forest with hillsides and ravines. Oh, how I would love to find a "wormy." I know they nest at Siloam Springs and Forest Glen, both a bit of a drive from me but not impossible. Closer to home, I've heard rumors they've been seen at the Mackinaw preserve in Tazewell County. Unlikely to be found in Dewitt due to habitat requirements...if they were to be found here, I would guess along the North Fork Access Trail would be the most likely spot.

Ovenbird: preferred habitat large, mature deciduous forests. Chances: I'm not holding my breath for an ovenbird, but a trip to one of the "wormy" places might turn one up.

Louisiana waterthrush: preferred habitat forested streamsides. Chances: I think pretty good, considering the fact I found one in early July two years ago along the North Fork Access Trail here in Dewitt county.

Kentucky and Hooded warblers: two more deciduous forest breeders, like the ovenbird and the worm-eating, my chances are limited to a couple of locations quite a drive from home. Possible but not likely.

Common yellowthroat: preferred habitat overgrown fields, hedges, marshes and forest edges. Bless their cheerful little hearts, these adorable warblers are everywhere during the summer.

the common yellowthroat is both cute and abundant
Yellow-breasted chat: preferred habitat dense brush or scrub. A very bizarre warbler that I am quite likely to find, as I've seen them nesting in both Dewitt and Macon counties in years past.

So here's hoping for a "warbler-iffic" summer!


  1. Wow that Cerulean Warbler is beautiful, like the clouds of Earth seen from space!

    I also like reading bird-related statistics. And looking up eBird lists for remote locations I am unlikely to ever visit. There is a certain poetry in those lists and lists of wonderful names.

    1. Sometimes I start a poem and it turns out to be just a list of the birds I saw...so I know what you mean. And Cerlean Warbler is probably #1 on my "want to see" list right now...not only because they are so incredibly beautiful, but their numbers are dropping so quickly.

  2. Why are the cerlean warblers disappearing? They are so beautiful. I have several warblers on my wish list, too, the black-throated blue, the Blackburnian, the Canada, the mourning, the bay-breasted, the Nashville, and the common yellowthroat, too, as he has so far eluded me. Also a golden-winged warbler; they do nest here. Despite cougars and other hazards, I'm going to brave the Ottawa National forest soon, which is full of birds (and mosquitoes).

  3. Emily, I know where a Prairie Warbler pair nest in Putnam County near Hennepin and Hopper. I just had Prothonotary at Bellrose Island in Mason County. You can probably hear Ovenbird somewhere this summer though it's difficult to see them. I have had them in the summer at Merwin and at Funks Grove. I had them during Spring Count at Moraine View, but those might have been migrants. I have had Yellow-breasted Chat at Merwin walking through the Prairie on the West side of the trail from the South end to the creek. I have also had them at Evergreen Lake, Moraine View, and Funks in previous years in June. I have had Louisiana Waterthrush nesting at Moraine View along the trail by the dam in the creek, and I have had them along the Area 7 trail at Moraine View. I think both Northern Parula and Yellow-throated Warbler still nest around the Sycamores at Funks Grove by the paintball place or along the creek by the cemetery. There are plenty of Yellow Warblers nesting at Schroeder Nature Sanctuary this year.

    1. Ovenbirds at Funks Grove?? I will have to go out and find them...that's a summer warbler I've yet to find anywhere in Illinois! So far this year (rain, bugs and work all making my life difficult) I've got common yellowthroat, yellow warbler, and chat.

  4. Also, there are some Cerulean Warblers nesting in Peoria County this summer.

  5. The Ovenbirds were in the woods between the nature center and the cemetery