Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Warbler Guy, do you have any advice for IDing "confusing fall warblers?"

People often ask me to share the best ways to identify migrating warblers — especially in the East and Midwest where post-breeding plumages can sometimes create identification challenges.

My brief answer is that there’s no replacement for doing your homework in the field. Getting out early and often with your binoculars is the best way to see lots of warblers. The more challenging identification episodes you encounter, the faster you become precise with your warbler field skills.

One identification resource I recently found may interest you. It’s an online “chart” that’s found at:

The author, Marcel Gahbauer, does a terrific job of separating 30 species of warblers by various key feather field marks: a) presence of wingbars or not; and b) facial, throat, and undertail characteristics.

Enjoy your autumn birding!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Warbler Guy: What “strange” common names were previously designated for some of our wood-warblers?

What “strange” common names were previously designated for some of our wood-warblers?

(The above Black-Throated Blue female's vastly different appearance in comparison to a definitive male of the species is suggested to be the reason John James Audubon named it a different common name, the Pine Swamp Warbler.)

Common Yellowthroat was once often referred to as Maryland Yellowthroat. John James Audubon mistakenly named two Yellow Warblers as Children’s Warbler. In another instance, Audubon misnamed two juvenile Yellow Warblers as Rathbone’s Warbler.

Audubon was not alone in his naming confusion. Beyond Audubon, naturalist/painter Alexander Wilson also made his share of identification mistakes. Both of these luminaries – as well as other contemporary birding experts in bygone eras – are to be excused because during their tenures little was known about the relationship between plumage changes and corresponding definitive field characteristics.

Audubon’s failed nomenclature decisions periodically continued to surface as he gathered specimens for his paintings. Originally calling a bird specimen he collected in Pennsylvania the Pine Swamp Warbler, he later realized his subject was truly a Black-Throated Blue Warbler.

Later, Audubon was misled by Wilson’s naming procedure into thinking a Blackburnian Warbler was worthy of being designated a new species, the Hemlock Warbler. Audubon, in fact, was never able to correct this misnaming mistake. Another misplay hearkens to May 1812, when Audubon caught a wood-warbler specimen that he named Vigor’s Warbler in honor of Nicholas Vigor, an English naturalist. More correctly, Audubon’s find was an immature Pine Warbler. His confusion was probably the result of the collected individual being in vastly different habitat than its usual pine/needle tree haunts.

Even the Canada Warbler was originally misnamed by Audubon. When he first drew the bird as it perched on the fruiting branch of a magnolia, Audubon suggested it be named the Cypress Swamp Flycatcher. Later he changed his mind, renaming the bird as Bonaparte’s Flycatcher only to again change its designation to Bonaparte’s Flycatching Warbler.

Eventually, it was confirmed that Audubon’s specimen was instead a young female Canada Warbler. Eight years later, Audubon painted the same species and mistakenly called it a Canada Flycatcher.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Warbler Guy, is the American Redstart a vagrant when seen in California during late summer/fall? American Redstarts in Point Reyes National Seashore are vagrant sightings?

Great question, Monica.

My opinion is "no" — given the Birds of North America account for this species states small populations of this species sometimes breed in far n. CA counties.....Thus, in migration, these populations may move south along the coast where, as you suggested, they are sometimes seen at this time of year at the Outer Point within Point Reyes National Seashore.

(Adult, male American Redstart, above)

That written, it's possible some of the American Redstarts seen from central to southern CA during late summer through fall arrive from as far north as southeastern Alaska and the northwest territories (as the northern most extension of its breeding range).

Observing one of these individuals would not qualify as a vagrant, I believe.

However, disoriented dispersing/migrating American Redstart from the East and Midwest would definitely be best termed vagrants, if seen on the West Coast.

Given the above information, a banded individual or so would need to be assessed to determine the precise answer to your question.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Warbler Guy, do you think the Myrtle and Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler subspecies will be designated new species?

Mari (in Phoenix), it's an interesting question that continues to be debated as researchers
examine the DNA of the two subspecies, among other elements.

Currently, the defining organization for this question — the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU) — does not have a new proposal to entertain a split that would result in species status for Myrtle and Audubon's. In fact, in recent years, an AOU committee turned down a proposal to create species status for more than Myrtle and Audubon's, but also, perhaps, Black-fronted and Goldman's subspecies within the Yellow-rumped complex.

For more current information, the following link is worth reading:

I'll provide more updates on this question as I learn of new information.

Regards to all, Daniel

Birding Guide

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Warbler Guy, where can I find Rare Bird Alert posts throughout the USA? Are warblers on Rare Bird Alert posts?

Candi (in Phoenix):

I recommend you peruse

Here, by region, you can choose which Rare Bird Alert to read.

For example, where I live in the West, it's exciting to note that a non-warbler -- a Bar-tailed
Godwit -- has recently captivated sleuthing birders visiting Bolinas Lagoon (near Stinson Beach in
West Marin County, CA).

For this sighting, I'm consulting and, then, investigating the North Bay Birds listserv.

My photo of this rare shorebird to n. CA is shown at my Facebook post at:

Initial migrating warblers are noted on several CA listservs today, including migrating Yellow Warbler spotted for the first time in Marin County, CA where I live. A Townsend's Warbler
also seen today in Marin County may possibly stay for the winter/non-breeding season, but it's more likely to continue migrating south (Our area's longer-lingering and overwintering Townsend's Warbler more typically arrive by September and October, with the initial ones seen now more likely transients for Marin County.)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Warbler Guy, any name changes by the American Ornithologists' Union this summer? Did the AOU bird name changes happen to any wood-warblers?

Channee, the short answer: "No" changes among wood-warbler species (either scientific or common names) via the recent July publication of the AOU's latest taxonomic proposal changes.

That written, a couple of interesting votes occurred by the AOU committee in relation to other songbird taxonomic change proposals:

1. In a slight upset, the presumed lump of Hoary and Common Redpoll failed as a proposal. More study was deemed necessary to decide if these two species should instead be considered as one.

2. A proposal that passed:

The Western Scrub-jay is now separated into two species: California Scrub-Jay and Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay.

Read all about it, below, courtesy of Audubon Magazine (and the author Kenn Kaufman):

Western Scrub-Jay is now split into two species: the California Scrub-Jay(Aphelocoma californica) and Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii). Birders have long recognized that these widespread western jays come in different flavors: a darker, more rich color in California, Oregon, and southwestern Washington, and a somewhat paler, grayer type in the interior West, from Nevada east to Texas. Many field guides already illustrate them separately as “coastal form” (or “Pacific form”) and “interior form.” They do hybridize where their ranges come together in western Nevada, but studies have shown that such interbreeding is very limited. So now they will be officially recognized as separate species.

Birders who have traveled widely in the West have probably seen both of these already, and will net an automatic “armchair lifer” from the decision. If you’ve already seen them, you can go ahead and count them.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Warbler Guy, can you name a common wood-warbler that migrates early in summer throughout the USA?


If you said “Yellow Warbler,” then you’re correct.

Rather than merely identifying this species as among the earliest “fall migrants” within the wood-warbler family, it’s apt to state the Yellow Warbler is an early “summer migrant.”

Dispersal and/or migration begins by mid- to late July throughout the majority of its eastern USA breeding range.

Migration of Yellow Warbler on the West Coast is not as early, typically initiating in August and peaking later in the month and into early September.

In addition, note this species has protracted migration, as some tardy individuals have been noted in Pennsylvania as late as October 1st and into late October from sightings in South Carolina and Florida.

Earliest arriving transients from the north into Mexico have been detected by late July. Most individuals, however, arrive in non-breeding territory by August, with peak numbers returning in September and October.