Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What’s an example of a “superspecies” in the wood-warbler family?

(The Black-Throated Gray Warbler in the above photo is one of five species within the Black-Throated Green superspecies group.)

Thanks for the query, Ms. Jones (in Santa Barbara, CA).

Think of a superspecies as a group of related species that evolved from a common ancestor, but live in distinct ranges apart from each other. A good example of a superspecies is the Black-Throated Green Warbler group that includes this species as well as Townsend’s, Hermit, Golden-Cheeked, and Black-Throated Gray Warblers.

Each of the latter four species in the above group is thought to have evolved from its Black-Throated Green ancestor. As this species expanded from its southeastern USA deciduous forest territory into coniferous forest created by the most recent glacial advances, isolation occurred among populations. As generations of separated populations slowly spread west and north throughout lower North America, each population became a divergent “island.” Gene flow ceased as reproductive isolation caused speciation to occur over eons. The resulting five species share various field marks, but also express their own unique characteristics.

Nonetheless, despite their status as species, hybridization sometimes occurs among species within a superspecies, including the Black-Throated Green superspecies wherein populations of Townsend’s and Hermit hybridize in Oregon and Washington. To simplify, where both species occur, over time Townsend’s appear to usually dominate and increase in number.

More technical, the five species within the Black-Throated Green superspecies have parapatric distributions. That is to say, each of the five species has ranges that do not significantly overlap but are immediately adjacent to each other (and/or occur together in a narrow contact zone, with the aforementioned reference to Townsend’s and Hermit Warbler hybridization a scenario where overlapping occurs).

To learn more about this subject, read a classic article by R.M. Mengel titled “The probable history of species formation in some northern wood warblers.” One source where this article appears is in a 1964 edition of “Living Bird” (page 943).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is the American Redstart a vagrant in the western USA?


Thanks for the question Lori Anne (in Seattle).

Although many eminent, well-respected authors suggest, for example, a California sighting of American Redstart deserves a “vagrant” status designation*, I beg to differ.

(* = vagrant status applies to a bird species that is found far from its typical breeding or non-breeding area.)

That’s because my research suggests small populations of this species periodically to annually nest in small numbers in n.w. CA. In addition, other breeding range individuals occur as far west as s.w. Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

As a result, I believe it’s more appropriate to refer to autumn and winter sightings of this species in northern California as “casual visitors.” That term qualifies a bird species’ status as one that is slightly removed geographically from where it is expected to be seen in either breeding or non-breeding range.

Ultimately, it’s possible a Bay Area (e.g., Point Reyes National Seashore) sighting of this species could be an individual that spent the breeding season in farther north latitudes, such as the aforementioned n.w. CA area (or Alaska, more probably, where populations in greater abundance breed).

In any event, the entire species of American Redstart are thought to be locally abundant in much of their breeding range, especially if suitable habitat remains. However, it should be noted that populations have declined where forests have been fragmented by development and where urbanization has replaced habitat.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Is it possible to distinguish the call notes of Audubon’s vs. Myrtle Yellow-rumped Warbler during the non-breeding season where they occur together?


Obviously, these birds are NOT singing during the non-breeding season, but you do often hear loud chip or call notes where Audubon’s and Myrtle Yellow-Rumped Warbler patrol during the non-breeding season.

In many cases you can hear how the Myrtle (one of the subspecies of the Yellow-rumped Warbler species) has a flatter and softer chip note than the Auduon’s.

The “ch” component of the call note is weaker for the Myrtle and it often gives many calls in rapid succession.

However, be careful. Intergrades (individuals that display visual characteristics specific to both Audubon’s and Myrtle) may announce call notes of the other subspecies. In other words, it’s possible to see a bird that looks like an Audubon’s, but it’s call note sounds like a Myrtle. This individual could likely be an intergrade.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Warbler Guy: "Is your Warbler Watch different than Cornell's?"

(Thanks for the question, Sharon D. in Mequon, WI.)

Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "Warbler Watch" monitoring project is admirable and deserves kudos.


Here, you'll see an interactive sight at which you can navigate to learn about and view most New World wood-warblers (Parulidae family members).

That written, Cornell's effort postdates my WarblerWatch blog site here -- and my focus is on answering your questions about wood-warblers and/or highlighting them with essays/articles and photos.

Ultimately, both Warbler Watch efforts attempt to educate people about the beauty and importance
of wood-warblers -- and saving their populations (including the federally endangered Kirtland's Warbler, a male of which is shown in the nearby photograph).

What could be more important conservation efforts?

Thus, I applaud Cornell's Lab of Ornithology staff -- and keep up the good work.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Mr. WarblerWatch, are the recent Dusky Warbler sightings in California rare ones?

(Photo © Brian L. Sullivan)

Simon Frazer, Eugene, OR

No need to be so formal, Simon. WarblerGuy is fine.

The answer to your question is “yes.”

Normally a breeder in East Asia, Dusky Warbler (Phylloscopus fuscatus) has been spotted in North America just 10 times since the 1970s, most commonly in Alaska, according to Joseph Morlan, an ornithology instructor at the City College of San Francisco. Morlan also told the Santa Cruz Sentinel — see: — his theory as to why the four and a half inch songbird found itself thousands of miles wayward from its normal environs:
“Weather is the most likely culprit, but it's untested," Morlan said.

Morlan, who is a member of California Bird Records Committee, provided a list of Dusky Warbler sightings in California below.

Who initially planted the proverbial flag on the moon and took the Giant Step for Birding Humankind by spotting the Dusky Warbler at Antonelli's Pond in Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz County)? That would be one Steve Gerow, followed by Rick Rournier, who apparently alerted master birder Don Roberson. By then, the digital airwaves were bathed in the typical alert system birders use to exclaim their discoveries. The resulting throng of binocular-toting enthusiasts lining the banks of the diminutive pond quickly climaxed. Meanwhile, the sudden spike of incoming revenue for local Santa Cruz motels and restaurants had proprietors scratching their head.

Coincidentally, lightning strikes twice. Dusky Warbler appeared in California’s Bay Area, as “. . .another dusky warbler was spotted last week next to a Costco parking lot in Richmond (just north of Oakland)," Matthew Dodder told the Santa Cruz Sentinel in the same article. Dodder, a birding instructor, brought his students from Palo Alto to capitalize upon the anomaly. To say the least, the appreciative witnesses may have enshrined their mentor for the viewing thrill, while ticking off another species on their burgeoning life lists.

Given all the excitement occurred nearby — basically in my backyard because I live nearby — you’d think I’d be around to skedaddle quickly over to watch the fun, correct? You’d be wrong. I was 750 miles away when this so-called Super Nova of a birding phenomenon occurred. My gazes were instead fixated on distant horizons while conducting raptor surveys in the Nevada wilderness since early September.

Such a tragedy, I’m sure you’re thinking. Relegated to raptors instead of vagrant warblers. Life is so cruel. Oh well, there’s always Alaska, as this Old World warbler (Sylviidae family member) sometimes occurs in Alaska.

Otherwise, I've got the toll-free number for Singapore Airlines to share with you because your better bet is to head to the Dusky's primary breeding area: southeast Asia.

As for the moral of this (rare) birding story: “Wait ‘till next time" or "the early bird gets the worm" (substitute "birder" for "bird" and "Dusky Warbler" for "worm."


Accepted Dusky Warbler Sightings (County in parentheses):
1. 27 Sep 1980, SE Farallon Island. SF
2. 28-29 Sep 1984, Hayward Regional Shoreline
3. 14 Oct 1987, SE Farallon Island. SF
4. 22-23 Oct 1993, Goleta SBA
5. 31 Oct-3 Nov 1995, Vandenburg Air Force Base
In addition there has been one documented record from Kern County on October 4-5, 2008; and a sighting of a bird believed to possibly be this species in San Joaquin County on October 3rd of this year.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Which are the best wood-warbler field guides/books?

. . . and thanks to Joseph C. of Lake Forest, IL for the question.

My favorite wood-warbler field guides/resources follow: (Note the final resource is the only non-book, yet an amazing treasure: an award-winning video that highlights the lives of wood-warblers in North America.)



# = First wood-warbler field guide I would buy
* = Best photos I’ve seen in wood-warbler guide
& = Best field guide for ecological information

# A Field Guide to Warblers of North America
Jon Dunn, Kimball Garrett, Sue A. Tackett, Larry O. Rosche, Cynthia House, Thomas R. Schultz, Roger Tory Peterson

Warblers of the Americas: An Identification Guide,
Jon Curson, David Quinn, David Beadle

& American Warblers: An Ecological and Behavioral Perspective, Douglass H. Morse

Life Histories of the North American Wood Warblers: Part 1, Arthur Cleveland Bent

New World Warblers, Jon Curson

* Warblers of the Great Lakes Region and Eastern North America
Chris Earley

Vanishing Songbirds: The Sixth Order, Wood Warblers and Other Passerine Birds, Elliot Porter and Kenn Kaufman

Stokes Field Guide to Warblers, Lillian and Donald Stokes

The Warblers of North America, Alexander Jr. Griscom and John Henry Dick

Wood Warblers' World, Hal H. Harrison

Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume 11: Old World Flycatcher's to the Old World Warblers (Handbook of the Birds of the World), Joseph Del Hoyo, Andy Elliott, and David Christie

DVD/VHS wood-warbler resource:
Watching Warblers, Michael Male and Judy Fieth

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Why are Yellow-Rumped Warblers so common?

Thanks for the question, Lori V. in Menlo Park, CA.

(UPDATE: The answer below is outdated, given recent name classification changes. Thus, see the 3/7/11 article here at this blog for an update in relation to the Yellow-rumped Warbler split into various subspecies.)

Here's why you see Yellow-Rumped Warbler in many different habitats and, especially, en masse during a prolonged spring and autumn migration (in the Midwest and East):

1. Among the six subspecies in the Yellow-Rumped Warbler (YRWA) species, four are Audubon subspecies (including the male Audubon YRWA seen in the above photo) and two are Myrtle subspecies.

2. YRWA exploit multiple feeding niches within the profile of the forest. That is, you are as apt to see them in the interior branches near the main trunk as you are to notice them near the ground. As a “hover and gleaner” feeder (like many Dendroica genus wood-warbler members of which the YRWA is enrolled), you can expect to see YRWA in a forest profile, but they also might be at the seashore (finding invertebrates near the surf) or, even, on grassy lawns (where insects may provide food resources).

3. In turn, given YRWA is able to exploit multiple environments and feed on diverse food resources – from insects, to fruit (such as poison oak and poison ivy berries, in addition to privet and wax myrtle berries – the species is well-adapted to sustaining its populations in times of food scarcity. That is to say, the YRWA has a diversified portfolio – a perfect tactic to ensure that the boom and bust of food resources does not impact the species’ numbers.

4. The hydrochloric acid content within YRWA individuals appears to be more potent than the digesting apparatus contained within most other wood-warblers. In fact, the wax myrtle berries that help YRWA survive harsh conditions in winter along the mid-Atlantic are not digestible by most birds, including the 51 other wood-warbler family members typically found annually in North America north of Mexico. Given the abundance of wax myrtle, YRWA are able to survive into the deep fall (and sometimes throughout the winter) in states that often encounter harsh winter conditions: WI, MI, OH and, in the East, MD, VI, NY (and in some New England states during some winters).

Seeing YRWA in November and December, thus, is not uncommon in the states mentioned immediately above. Increasingly warmer winter seasons, too, provide succor to YRWA that do not need to vacate northern latitudes as is the custom in the vast majority of other songbirds.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

QUIZ ANSWERS (to the ones appearing here on the right column)

....and from top to bottom as you scroll down the page:

1. Five wood-warbler species in N. Am. above Mexico walk:

- Swainson’s
- Connecticut
- Ovenbird
- N. Waterthrush
- LA Waterthrush

2. Rare wood-warbler species on the West Coast include (but are not limited to):

- Cerulean
- Swainson’s
- Connecticut
- Hooded
- Prothonotary
- Blue-Winged
- Kentucky
- Golden-Winged
- Yellow-throated
- Prairie

3. Among the approximately 114 wood-warbler species in the Parulidae family, 52 typically appear annually in N. Am. north of Mexico.

Thus, the answer is that MORE wood-warblers nest in the tropics than in N. Am. north of Mexico.

4. It’s mere opinion and speculation as to which autumn, basic plumage-appearing wood-warbler is the most challenging to identify, BUT respondents believe it’s Bay-Breasted.

That answer is plausible, given its cryptic plumage, especially on a hatch-year female that has little if any ruby-orange flanks. After hatch year males show this feature more prominently, though it can still be difficult to note.

I’d (humbly) suggest Blackpoll is easier to identify than Bay-Breasted because the former in autumn has yellow legs and wider, more prominent/resolute wingbars, among other features.

5. Yellow Warbler and American Redstart females have been documented as singers.

6. In the Upper Midwest, “weather and wind dynamics” are the most prominent factors that help determine when night-traveling migrants will arrive on the landscape during spring.

7. The Olive Warbler is the ONLY wood-warbler that nests in N. Am. north of Mexico yet is NOT a member of the Parulidae family. Instead, it is the lone member of the Peucedramidae Family.

Monday, September 1, 2008

UPDATE: Kirtland’s Warbler 2008 Breeding Success in Wisconsin and Michigan

© photo from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

As many of you may already know (and per my earlier posting below from June 27 and July 8, 2008), the Kirtland’s Warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) is one of North America’s rarest neotropical migrant songbirds.

As brief background, the species was not discovered to breed in Michigan until 1903 when Norman A. Wood discovered the first nest in Oscoda County in northern lower Michigan. Until 1996, all nests were found within 60 miles of this site. Since then, a small number of nests have been found each year in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Until last year, only periodic nesting occurred in Wisconsin and the province of Ontario.

But 2007 and 2008 changed everything. Successive discoveries during the last two breeding seasons of Kirtland’s in similar locations (and a new Wisconsin County added in 2008) have changed the boxscore appearance. It’s arguably now safe to suggest that Kirtland’s nests annually in both Michigan and Wisconsin.

What follows provides an update and summary of the species’ 2008 breeding success in Wisconsin. The chart, below, provides an update of totals for Michigan, Wisconsin and Ontario in 2007 and 2008.

Wisconsin’s documented Kirtland’s total in 2008 is 10 (with 9 out of the 10 banded and fitted with colored bands to, hopefully, monitor their presence in future breeding seasons if and when they return to North America next spring). Five nests were observed in Adams County (central WI) while two different singing males were heard in Marinette County (northern WI).

In all, volunteers and professional biologists monitored 12 Wisconsin counties for Kirtland’s in 2008. Beyond Adams and Marinette Counties, survey teams reported hearing or seeing Kirtland’s at several sites in Vilas and Jackson Counties. Ensuing confirmation by US Fish and Wildlife and WI DNR biologists of these reports was not possible.

(# = In addition, another Kirtland’s male was reported from a far northern WI county – Bayfield – and the female associating with the male was also seen. However, no additional sightings were repeated and a nest was never found, so it remains uncertain as to whether breeding occurred at this site.)

Meanwhile, reports from the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s monitoring biologists in Michigan suggest fair success among this season’s resident breeding population in six north-northcentral counties that totaled 1,791 singing males –- an increase of 94 in comparison to the 1,697 singing males reported in 2007.

The combined total of singing males heard throughout Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ontario in the 2008 breeding season was 1,801 males (see below "chart" that breaks down the breeding numbers for these areas.)

(Interestingly, as a digression of thought while you read this account, note that all of the Kirtland’s have currently dispersed and/or migrated south en route to their Bahama Island non-breeding grounds. Undoubtedly, some of the early migrants that left Wisconsin and Michigan by the first week of July may have already arrived on their non-breeding territory within the Bahamas.

Whether other individuals, in addition to other migrating bird species, survived such calamities as Gustav, obviously remains unclear. It’s safe to suggest, however, that mortality is a dominant result of songbird migration, with estimates ranging from 30 to 50 percent mortality.)


Kirtland’s Warbler 2007 Breeding 2008 Breeding

Wisconsin 8 males
(3 nest sites in one county) 10 (two counties)
(# above remark = three?)
Michigan 1,697 males 1,791 males
Ontario 2 males 1 male

(and thanks for their help) that I used to create this post:

Tom Schultz, Dr. Noel Cutright, and The Northeast Wisconsin Birder, Volume 7, Issue 5, June-July, 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

Vagrant Eastern Wood-Warblers in the West….

……and it’s the best time to see them.

September and October are often the best months to see eastern wood-warblers in coastal areas (such as northern California, including Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County).

But you can also see them inland, especially within dense, tangled growth along rivers and creeks.

Which eastern wood-warbler species appears in this photo?

It was photographed by Martin Meyers in the Sacramento area on 10/1/04. (The answer appears at the bottom of this entry.)

According to one study published as “On the Occurrence of Eastern Wood Warblers in Western North America” (George Austin, Winter, 1971) in The Condor, 28 species of eastern wood-warblers have been detected in California. This study does not account for more recent published data.

Among the 28 species, the rarest to see is Cerulean, Prothonotary, Worm-eating, Golden-winged, Blue-winged, Prairie, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Mourning.

Other wood-warbler species that are often considered rare or vagrants in California have wintered in recent years, such as Black-and-White, Palm, Northern Waterthrush, and American Redstart*. At least five other species are believed to have wintered one or more times: Tennessee, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided, Blackpoll, and Ovenbird.

As for where you can see vagrant eastern wood-warblers on the West Coast, I do not intend this entry to be a comprehensive tell-all summary. Instead, I’m featuring a well known “vagrant trap” -- Point Reyes National Seashore (PRNS) –- as one suggested destination that you may choose for your sleuthing effort. Within PRNS, checkout the Monterey Cypress groves that occur as “islands of green refuges” at the Outer Point amidst the dairy farms and chaparral. These groves represent wayside oases with dense vegetation providing food resources amidst otherwise inhospitable conditions — for eastern wood-warblers that, in most cases, have lost their way as they dispersed or migrated from breeding grounds.

Disoriented, these eastern wood-warbler individuals are often at the extreme western point of their post-breeding season movement. Many may even continue flying farther west, winging their way over the ocean with oblivion their unintended destination.

The lucky ones find regugia within eventual landfall, such as a group of seven islands called the Farallone Islands (27 miles west of San Francisco and 20 miles south of Point Reyes National Seashore's Outer Point). It’s another ideal venue where researchers observe eastern wood-warblers – with the tenancity of these lost survivors surely admirable. But, alas, the cruel penalty for their aimless perigrination often means an unfortunate early exit from our world – and the Outer Point and Farallones serve as “purgatory” waysides before fate interludes.

(* = Note an annual population of American Redstart nests in northwestern CA, I do not consider sightings of it on the West Coast to be absolute vagrant/accidental observations. Instead, it’s safer to consider sightings of this species in late summer/autumn are either West Coast or East Coast breeding individuals.)

(Chestnut-sided Warbler appears in the above photo that you can enlarge by clicking on it.)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Wood-Warbler Resources R Us: See Below...... there's plenty of amazing, helpful wood-warbler web sites and other related birding resources for you to peruse.

(The identity of the wood-warbler species in the above photo is revealed in a caption below/right column that repeats the same photo of this individual.)

Here's a partial list to which I'll add in the near future (below). For now, check out the following:

{Note: It's flattering to see the Cornell Lab of Ornithology also likes the monicker "Warbler Watch :-) (below web site link).}

(Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s “Warbler Watch” program)
(10,000 Birds)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Non-Migrating Wood-Warblers?


....and it’s easy to overlook the fact that the majority of approximately 116 wood-warbler species
(Parulidae family) do not migrate and live year-round in the tropics.

Approximately 64 species of wood-warblers never occur farther north than Mexico.

The true migrators (i.e., neotroprical migrants) – 52* wood-warbler species, such as the Blackburnian, Cerulean, Prothonotary, to name merely three -- with which we enjoy steeping our senses after (too) long winters are primarily breeding residents only within some of the lower 48 USA states.

Interestingly, some states (e.g., CA, TX, GA, FL, and a few southeastern USA states) host one or more wood-warbler species as either winter and/or permanent residents (e.g., The above photo features Common Yellowthroat, thanks to Martin Myers © whose image of this Nevada individual in April is one of 15 subspecies within the Common Yellowthroat species found throughout North America where it breeds in all of the lower 48 USA states.)

Even mid-Atlantic, New England and upper Midwest states regularly host small populations of wood-warbler species that remain year-round. Hardy species surviving northern latitude winters may typically include Yellow-rumped Warbler and Common Yellowthoat, and, less commonly, Yellow-breasted Chat and Palm Warbler. All four of these species are uncommonly to sometimes observed during annual Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) that occur in mid- to northern-latitude states. Whether CBC detections are simply truant individuals that eventually flee winters grip and move south remains uncertain from one year to the next.
But, if suitable micro-habitat conditions occur and the winter season is not too severe, then all four of the aforementioned species may remain during some years.

In general, and in sum, the greater northern latitudes host few numbers of and fewer non-breeding season wood-warblers than southern latitudes corresponding to, say, S. Carolina, Georgia, Florida and other southeastern states.

What about the other 64 remaining tropical resident species (that live primarily outside the USA)? -- the majority of which are wood-warbler species that do NOT migrate. These species’ life histories within the tropics feature some distinct differences from their migrating first-cousins (e.g., Blackpoll and other typical northern North America wood-warbler species), including:

1) tropical resident wood-warbler species tend to have sexes that exhibit the same plumages (unlike the Blackpoll where the female looks starkly different than the male); and 2) the most brilliant of the tropical wood-warbler species express the same bright colors throughout the year; 3) the nesting period for tropical wood-warbler species is often longer.

(* = Note that only 52 of the 116 wood-warblers (Parulidae family) are
typically reliably seen in the lower 48 USA states each year, according to "A Field Guide to Warblers of N. America" authors Jon L. Dunn & Kimball L. Garrett.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

New Kirtland’s Warbler Sighting in Wisconsin

. . . Federally endangered species reported in third WI county (Bayfield County) this breeding season (2008)

. . . To find the following article online as of 7/8/08, go to:

Nicolet National Forest
Wisconsin State Journal Reporter

A pair of Kirtland's warblers, one of the rarest North American birds, has been spotted for the first time in northern Wisconsin, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed last week.

"It's been a little more than 70 years since we've seen any presence of this particular bird," said Anthony Erba, deputy forest supervisor at Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Bayfield County, where the birds were seen. "When you come across something that unexpected ... it's like, 'Whoa, there it is.' "

The Kirtland's warbler has been on the list of federally endangered species since 1967, and was only known to nest in Michigan until last year, when about eight males were spotted in southcentral Wisconsin and two in Canada.

Conservation efforts in Michigan have raised the population of the warblers, which are now expanding outward, said Kim Grveles, assistant ornithologist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Bureau of Endangered Resources.

About 1,697 males were reported in Michigan in 2007, Grveles said, an increase of about 200 from 2006.

The population increase is mostly credited to efforts from Michigan's Kirtland's Warbler Recovery Team, a 40-year-old partnership between private groups and state agencies to manage jack pine, the birds' preferred habitat, for the expansion and nesting of the species in the state, Grveles said.

"Even though we have habitat — and high-quality habitat — for the bird, we just didn't have much confidence that the bird would make that much of a jump to northern Wisconsin," Erba said. "But now we have confirmed presence of this bird in Wisconsin, and that's very exciting for us."

"We started last year doing formal surveys, because we knew that with a population growing like that, they would start dispersing," said Scott Posner, a wildlife biologist at Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest's Washburn Ranger District.

Now that warblers have been confirmed in the region, the next step is to survey the area during the next breeding season to see if the migrating birds are coming back, and then ensure there is suitable habitat for them to breed in the forest, Posner said.

"After that, we will continue monitoring to see what's needed for them," Posner added.

The DNR is talking with land managers about possible management options to encourage the species to come to Wisconsin to breed, Grveles said.

Wisconsin has one of the best opportunities in the Midwest for these birds to increase its population, she added.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

“Kirtland’s Nesting in WI This Year? 2007? Ontario, Too?” Answer: Yes (!)

That’s correct, Jay in Jasper. You’re on. It's Larry King Live… with Mr. Wood-Warbler tonight as we explore a fascinating explanation to your above question.

Let’s unravel the tale of the First Ever WI Nesting Record of Kirtland’s Warbler in 2007 {with the species AGAIN documented to be nesting this year in at least one WI county (Adams) and, perhaps another (Marinette) where they have also been seen in 2008; see below}:

The discovery of the first-ever Kirtland’s nest in WI begins on May 19, 2007. You’re a birder who is not only passionate, but have devoted your life to the environment as a career. Indeed, you are environmental consultant/wildlife biologist/birder Dean DiTommaso. On this fine spring day in central-southcentral WI, you discover three male Kirtland Warbler’s in a young red pine plantation in Adams County.

Did the intrigued DiTommaso call 911. No, but all banter aside, he did alert the WI DNR of his amazing gem of a discovery — and the Gold Rush was on, so to speak. During the ensuing days, under the guidance of the DNR, DiTomasso found three additional males at another site nearby. On June 2, 2007, the talented DiTommaso made his first observation of a female – thereby documenting the likely 2007 nesting occurrence (given that migrating or wayward Kirtland’s individuals, including females, would more likely be correctly judged as transients possibly moving through WI during May, but not necessarily staying to nest; by June, a sighting of a male and/or female Kirtland’s, or both, increases the chances that nesting is probable to confirmed, pending further monitoring).

Additional female Kirtland’s were seen on June 6 and 9 -- observations that eventually led to the discovery of a second and third nest in mid-June.

In total, during 2007, the DNR (with DiTomasso’s help), documented a total of at least eight singing male Kirtland’s, including three separate active nest sites in Wisconsin.

This year, 2008, the statewide total in WI is 10 males documented (Tom Schultz, personal correspondence, June 28, 2008). At least three female nests have been found. Two of these males were seen in Marinette County (the second County removed north of Green Bay, WI) and at least seven males have been color marked with leg bands (Noel Cutright, personal correspondence, June 29, 2008).

In turn, the perceptive reader may now ask: “Red pine is where the Kirtland’s was found in 2007? That’s interesting, given the Jack Pine is the historically preferred and obligate tree upon which this Federally Endangered wood-warbler usually depends.”

So what gives? Can we expect to conclude the two consecutive years (2007 and 2008) qualify Kirtland’s as an annual breeding species in WI (and, perhaps in Ontario where at least one pair was documented breeding in 2007)? (Sorry, I don’t yet have the status of whether Kirtland’s was again found nesting this year in Ontario.)

In addition, perhaps you’re wondering (like me)?:

Are Kirtland’s likely to spread the breeding ranges (in area) if they become annual breeders in WI and Ontario (beyond the six counties where they regularly nest in Michigan counties near Roscommon in the south-central south area of the state)?

The answer may potentially be “yes,” if the current coordinated Jack Pine planting plan meets its goals as executed by the DNR and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Both of these agencies are combining their wildlife know-how and expertise with forest management efforts by the US Forest Service, Plum Creek Timber Company, and multiple WI County Forest Administrators (Trick, Grveles, DiTommaso, Robaidek, The Passenger Pigeon, Summer 2008).

Other potentially good news is that the above management efforts may help preserve and increase other bird species populations beyond the Kirtland’s. Such rare and declining species in the vicinity -- Vesper Sparrow, Brown Thrasher, and Black-Billed Cuckoo, to name just three species – are the most likely additional avian beneficiaries of prospective management schemes that could be executed to host the Kirtland’s in greater numbers.

So, the moral of the Great Kirtland’s Discovery of 2007? Get out there and bird.

Have fun doing so and Happy Bird Songing By Ear for those birding in the forest like I often do…..Daniel

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Seven Species of High Sierra Mountain Wood-Warblers?


Yes, the headline query is correct.

The question was prompted by Terese Frederick, one of my former students, who asked me recently if ".........there's more wood-warbler species nesting in the CA Sierra Nevada mountains (High Sierra Mountain Range), including the Yuba Pass area, Sierra County, 30 miles southwest of Truckee) than on the 'flats,' such as counties within the Bay Area?"

The brief answer* is that there's often MORE species annually nesting in the Bay Area than the nearby mountains 130-200 miles east of the Bay Area -- but that's only if you include the coastal counties of Marin and Sonoma.

These two counties constitute two of the Bay Area counties among nine (SF, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, Napa, Santa Clara)

In total, among the nine Bay Area counties, the typical RELIABLE annual nesting wood-warbler species include:
- YELLOW-RUMPED (one of the four Audubon's subspecies)

"See, that's nine," I told Terese, and adding: "That's nine species in the Bay Area and ONLY seven species of nesting wood-warbler species during most breeding seasons in mountainous regions of the Sierras:

the above species minus the YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT and COMMON YELLOWTHROAT."

HOWEVER, in some mountainous areas within the Sierras, NASHVILLE WARBLER nests.

So, we have eight in some areas of the Sierras, I told Terese.

In sum:

Nine Bay Area wood-warbler nesting species vs. eight Sierran species.

The Bay Area wins over the Sierras by a mere one species.

Now, do you folks reading this entry KNOW HOW MANY wood-warbler species nest in the county within which you live?

Feel free to share your total with me as a "comment," below (by clicking on the comment text and entering your thoughts to me). (Please also feel free to vote at the quiz on the right.)

(* = More complex, it appears that N. PARULA may nest occasionally to regularly in Marin Co.
That makes 10 species for the greater Bay Area as nesting wood-warblers.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Late Warbler Species Still Arriving? Answer: Possibly "Yes"

Tardy me, I’ve been enraptured in my Wisconsin wood-warbler tour (at the Festival of Nature in n. WI) and watching the Prime Time Migration in my home state (WI).

Thus, I’m just back and now digitally-efficient again (vs. digitally deficient in the WI northwoods where I visited).

I’m no ticker, but I do count high enough to note that I detected 25 species of wood-warblers…..without being in “chase” mode. Lots of fun mornings (and days) carousing for the spring birds. It was a 24/7 birding foray. As such, Doc, would you say I have the malady of ASD (Attention Surplus Disorder) for wood-warblers? (They’re my second favorite family…….next to my own).


Enough of me, TODAY’S TOPIC relates to the “phenology”/seasonal dates for LATE-ARRIVING wood-warbler species in the Upper Midwest.

This question was posed to me on my tour that I led for the “Festival of Nature” ( (below entry from 5/13/08) as:

“Which wood-warblers are the latest ones to arrive on migration (in the Midwest)?” (asked by Kate Aaron, 5/22/08)

My answer follows#, below:

(# = i.e., spring migration arrival of wood-warblers is, in general, a factor related to wind patterns/weather/temperature, in addition to the level of insect bloom resources present on the landscape. It’s an inexact science, to be glib. BUT tracking the Gulf Stream wind patterns (south and southwest winds are ideal) are good indicators as well as storms/fronts that SOMETIMES serve as harbingers that large numbers of neotropical species/wood-warblers will, in turn, premiere on the landscape.)

Given I grew up in Wisconsin, the following brief, oversimplified information is most pertinent to the southern Wisconsin region, though it’s also generally true for the Upper Midwest region as a whole:

1. Blackpolls and Connecticut Warbler are considered two of the last flavors to arrive on the landscape, though their premiere date may vary widely from spring to spring in s. WI/Upper Midwest.

2. For example:
During some springs (such as this one), Blackpolls may arrive in early May*.

To wit:

This spring, I heard Blackpoll on the first day that I arrived (5/14/08*) while the initial flavors – Yellow-Rumped (YRWA) and Palm Warbler (PAWA) -- in the vanguard march north were ALSO present in large numbers.

(* = Blackpoll may arrive even earlier (late April-5/10 in s. WI is not uncommon)

3. In turn, encountering this kind of species mix is anomalous in my experience of watching the spring march of neotropical migrants in Wisconsin during the last 30 years. (I visit in May and in September, ostensibly to monitor the wood-warbler spring and autumn migration.) The spring weather this season was so cool that I surmised my initial 5/14 birding foray felt more like 5/1-5/4 – in terms of the avifauna species diversity present.

4. That is to say, during most spring seasons, I’ll see Blackpoll AFTER all of the YRWA and PAWA are gone from the landscape – given they do NOT nest in s. WI. Neither does Blackpoll, of course, but it’s typical arrival during some spring seasons is later than the majority of the other newly-arriving migrating wood-warbler species.

In fact, it’s not too unusual for Blackpoll (and Canada, Mourning and Connecticut as the best examples) to arrive in late May and/or, even, early June (though Blackpoll would be the best candidate for a June seasonal premiere in s. WI.

5. A good source for the phenology/seasonal arrival of wood-warblers on the landscape in s. WI/Upper Midwest is "Wisconsin Birds: A checklist with migration graphs" (6th edition, Stanley A. Temple, Robert C. Domagalski, John R. Cary, WI Society for Ornithology, 2003)

6. Lastly, as a personal anecdote, I’ve been in Upper Michigan in the second and third week of May. At this time, along Lake Superior, I’ve met birders searching for Connecticut Warbler in nearby counties. I’m often too sheepish to spoil their fun pursuit, as this species is typically NOT yet present.
Thus, my final tip today is to tell the Yooper/UP’er (Upper Michigan) bird-sleuths to consider the possibility that better Connecticut Warbler (prize-)viewing success may happen by the fourth week in May and, even, early June.

Good (wood-warbler) birding to all…..Daniel

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My Upcoming Wood-Warbler Birding Tour in N. WI-Door County

.....and you're invited:

6:30 a.m., 5/23/08, Bailey's Harbor, WI at the annual Festival of Nature 

My birding tour is highlighted at the Ridges Santuary Web site that sponsors the annual festival, so please feel free to visit:

Then, at the site above, click on the "A complete registration brochure can be downloaded by clicking here" to see all nature tours/workshops throughout the weekend's festival.

My tour meets at the beach parking lot/county park adjoining Lake Michigan (across from The Ridges Sanctuary), so hope you can make it. 

I'll have free WI Bird Checklists to give away and other interesting handouts, too -- plus the wood-warblers and other neotropical migrants promise to be the best invited VIP guests to the festivities.  :-)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"It’s Time To Play, 'Who Was Mr. X?' ”

For example:

Who was Mr. Wilson’s Warbler?


Alexander Wilson was an early 19th century painter whose prolific production of nine bird volumes approached the virtuoso quality of John James Aububon’s now-classic renditions of avifauna.

In fact, while illustrating 268 bird species (including 26 species never described by ornithologists until Wilson himself identified the birds), he produced eight classic editions of "American Ornithology" (Or the Natural History of the Birds of the United States) between 1808 and 1814,

The result: Wilson’s unlikely yet mercurial advancement in the budding field of ornithology in the early 1800s granted him rarified status among his era’s peers, both artists and scientists, and remains intact today.

Lastly, several bird species carry his name, including Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Wilson’s Plover, Wilson’s Phalarope, and the aforementioned Wilson’s Warbler (in addition to the wood warbler genus Wilsonia that contains the Wilson’s Warbler, Wilsonia pusilla, and two other New World, Parulidae family/wood warbler family members). Even the Wilson’s Journal of Ornithology is named in his honor.

(This post's contents were assisted by Robin Dakin.........and references used included 1) Birds of North America online; 2) The Birder's Handbook; and 3) Wikipedia)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Females Sing in the Wood-Warbler Family?

Yes, it's true -- female wood-warblers sing.

The question (see quiz on right side) is which females are so talented to memorize and learn their song (ala the males that MUST have a singing mentor from which they hear, learn, and memorize a vocalization).

In general, wood-warblers are like most other songbirds. They experience a period of practicing a song in a stage that is called "plasticity."

Depending on the species of wood-warbler, true, definitive adult song is achieved by no later than the commencement of the following breeding season after a newborn singer arrives in a previous year's brood.

When that moment of virtuosity appears, it's called "crystalization."

Now there's a magnificent term that rings a chord of delight in any birder's heart.

(I still haven't revealed who the female singing species of wood-warblers are on the landscape. If you wish to know before the quiz deadline occurs, please feel free to email me:

Monday, April 14, 2008

“Back By Popular Demand, ‘Birding By Ear’ Song Ecology Class Draws a Crowd at the Oakland-based Merritt College”

April 2, 2008
For immediate release
Contact: Daniel Edelstein,, 415-382-1827,


“Back By Popular Demand, ‘Birding By Ear’ Song Ecology Class Draws a Crowd at the Oakland-based Merritt College”

Thirty-five Merritt College students in one classroom is a challenge for any instructor, but how about the same number on a narrow nature trail listening to an American Robin?

Or was that a Black-headed Grosbeak?

Both birds sound similar.

Merritt College Adjunct Faculty Biology Instructor Daniel Edelstein (M.S.) is the one to tell you the difference. He’s been identifying bird songs for more than 30 years.

So it’s no surprise, as he peeks over the shrubs in the low-growth forest that abuts the sprawling East Bay junior college’s hillside environs, that he announces a nearby skulking Spotted Towhee’s voice has revealed its hidden presence in the nearby dense shrubs. The lively song of a Bewick’s Wren is next heard. Then a more rare Hermit Thrush sings, or so says the trained ear of Edelstein (who is able to identify more than 500 birds by their distinctive calls and songs).

For his Merritt College class that begins on the evening of April 17 (as the first lecture/slide show (7-10 pm) of three (4/17, 4/24, 5/1/08) along with five all-day field trips (9 – 5 pm) (4/20, 4/26, 4/27, 5/3, 5/4/08) to prime Bay Area birding landscapes where diverse songs are heard during the spring), the 50-year-old Edelstein explains:
“Sure, people enjoy learning bird songs from among the more than 75 different singing and calling species that are common on the landscape this time of year. But there’s plenty of other hands-on, interactive devices I employ to make the class fun and interesting – from slides, videos, DVDs, handouts, bibliographies/resources, and Internet Web site searches related to song ecology in the classroom to “ears-on” (i.e., hands-on, interactive) techniques on the field trips that utilize my iPod (that plays songs with the aid of a portable speaker), a SonicEar amplifier that you wear as a headset (to more easily hear the bird vocalizations in the field), and binoculars (that I lend to students for free, if they don’t have a pair).”

Students wishing to register for the class may do so online at or The class appears as both a biology (BIOL 80B) and environmental studies class (ENVIRO 80B) at the aforementioned Web sites with students needing to also note the class section as 1515 or 1516, respectively. Students may take the class as pass/fail or for credit (variable from .5 to 2.5 credits, depending on a student’s preference).

In closing, Edelstein explained that he’s glad to have students attend a portion of the class’s offerings, if they cannot attend all three lectures and all five field trips. “The important goal is to get students out listening and enjoying the amazing landscape of birds with which we host our world,” Edelstein said. He adds: “Learning a few new songs of different species each spring season is a lot of fun for students. A lot of the songs sound similar so I call them "Difficult Decisions," in terms of, for example, telling a trilling Chipping Sparrow from a similar-sounding Dark-eyed Junco.

"But what's birding without a challenge?" he continued. "Besides, in my class, students like knowing the reasons why birds sing, how they sing, how they learn to sing, and new techniques to distinguish them from sound-alike bird species. I guess that’s why my most popular handout sheet is called “Top Ten Techniques for Identifying Birds By Ear.”

Edelstein, who possesses a master’s degree in Natural Resources, has presented his bird song-related presentations in more than 20 states nationwide. As a wildlife biologist for the Santa Rosa-based SCS Engineers, he conducts field surveys for animals (including birds) and plants.

To learn more about the class, contact him at and/or see his Web site ( where there’s a link to register for the class (through the home page’s “Classes/Slide Shows/Education” button at the home page). The Web site also features free, printer-friendly birding information specific to the Bay Area and northern California, including a Nature Watch Calendar; a list of bird migrant arrival times in the Bay Area; 200 or more bird song memory devices, and a wood-warbler tips identification chart.

Friday, April 4, 2008

*Which species are the earliest arriving wood-warblers in northern CA?

(* = As a complement to the previous 3/26/08 blog posting (scroll down the page) focused on arrival times of wood-warblers in n. IL/Midwest, here's a northern CA/West Coast answer to the above question.


If you're in northern California where I live (Marin County in the Bay Area), the earliest arriving candidate is Orange-crowned Warbler (OCWA) (that may join winter resident populations that are never common to see during the non-breeding season, yet are observed annually from October-February in small numbers) followed by (in no exact, defined chronological order), Palm Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, MacGillivray's, and Hermit Warbler -- with some individuals (ala OCWA) for all of these species sometimes remaining in small numbers during many to all non-breeding seasons.

Common Yellowthroat is resident in the Bay Area/Marin Co., with more than one subspecies possibly occurring in the area, depending on the time of the year an individual is observed and where in n. CA/the Bay Area.

In recent years, n. Parula has nested in Marin County, so its arrival is probably occurring within the date range arrival window similar to Yellow through Hermit's (above). American Redstart transients also pass through n. CA regions, though they are more common to see in the autumn (e.g., Outer Point within Point Reyes National Seashore) given they often nest annually in small numbers within the northernmost latitudes of northern CA along the coast.

In addition, Yellow-rumped Warbler (an Audubon's subspecies) nests in Marin County at selected higher altitudes, and it's possible the breeding individuals are migrant arrivals in the spring, with winter residents of the same species leaving Marin County/n. CA for breeding sites at higher latitudes.

Another wood-warbler breeding species, Yellow-breasted Chat typically does not usually overwinter in n. CA, and may arrive later during some spring seasons than the species mentioned in the previous sentence. It is considered extirpated from Marin Co., but it is locally abundant in Sonoma County, especially in spots along the Russian River. I've enjoyed canoe rides down this waterway when repeated Yellow-breasted Chat songs filled the airwaves, one (enjoyable) river bend after the next.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Which species are the earliest arriving wood-warblers to northern IL in the spring?

- Mary Annette, Lake Bluff, IL

Answer: The answer to your question varies from one USA location to another*.

But if you’re in IL, then you would typically expect to see during the majority of spring seasons the following arrivals and transients (transient individuals pass through an area during migration, but do not stay to nest where they are seen) as the calendar progresses from now through early May when the peak of migration occurs:

(* = Note #1 and #2, below, are often reliable as the initial two arrival species in IL (and the upper Midwest), though these two may periodically over-winter in small numbers as far south as s. WI, especially through November/December. After #1 -#3, below, the arrival selection for #s 4 and beyond become more difficult to accurately predict.

Instead, it's best to consider my suggested bird species corresponding to #4 and beyond (BELOW) are idealized, in terms of arrival "trends" based on many years of monitoring. That is to say, consider #4-#9 a general arrival sequence that may occur for observers during some spring birding seasons, and change for others.)

ARRIVAL ORDER (see above paragraphs for qualification)

1. Yellow-rumped Warbler (transients join any winter residents; all individuals of this species leave IL to nest farther north, with the n. WI the closest breeding location from IL) (Myrtle subspecies) (Overwintering has occurred in n. IL)

2. Pine Warbler (migrant; transient) (Overwintering has occurred in n. IL)

3. Palm Warbler (migrant; transient) (Some Christmas Bird Count seasons yield this species)

4. LA Waterthrush

5. Black and White Warbler

6. Black-throated Green Warbler

7. Tennessee Warbler

8. Nashville Warbler

9. Magnolia Warbler

10. Next arrival candidates (order of arrival is not as easily defined by chronological progression on the calendar, so the following species are grouped together): Wilson's, Yellow Warbler, Ovenbird, Blackburnian, and American Redstart. (Other arrivals may include increased populations of Yellow and Common Yellowthroat. Note: In parts of n. IL, it's possible that Yellow and Common Yellowthroat remain after arriving on migration and breed in suitable habitat.)

Final arrival candidates often (but not always) include Blackpoll, Mourning Warbler and Connecticut Warbler.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Kirtland’s Warbler On Your Life List To Find?

……here’s some tips to finding it when you’re in Michigan during May, June and early July

1. Go to the following Web site:

It lists answers to typical questions that Kirtland’s chasers probably need to know.

2. Consider attending the Kirtland’s Warbler Festival on May 17, 2008 at Kirtland Community College in
Roscommon, Michigan (central Michigan).


At the Festival, guided tours with expert birders not only give you access to known breeding sights, but you’ll also learn more about this species and the other birds you detect while pursuing the Kirtland’s Warbler.

3. When I was lucky enough to be an invited speaker at two recent Kirtland's Warbler Festivals, I was shown during guided tours where these birds breed.

Then I went back to these areas 20 minutes outside of Roscommon, MI on my own time and followed the rules of NOT leaving the road areas (whereby tromping through their sensitive habitat could impact this species and/or other birds/wildlife/plants). In so doing, I heard the Kirtland's singing and calling -- and even caught fleeting glimpses of both male and female individuals during the rare times they flew amidst the short Jack Pines where they occur throughout the breeding season before dispersing and/or migrating by no later than mid-summer.

Lastly, I was given the treat of seeing a male Kirtland's outside the 10 MI counties where this species typically breeds annually.

The place was OUTSIDE the usual MI breeding areas: near Traverse City along Lake Michigan. It was mid-May, 2000, and I was looking for other neotropical songbird migrants during the Prime Time window of opportunity for seeing diverse species.

Suddenly, a flash of yellow appeared at eye level from 100' away.

My jaw almost dropped as I noticed the characteristic field marks of the Kirtland's in my view finder.

It looked exactly like the photo on the cover of the "Warblers" field guide (Dunn & Garrett, Peterson Field Guide Series, 1997).

After I pinched myself to confirm that I was NOT dreaming, the rest of the day was a relaxed glowing feeling of delightful euphoria. Truly, I was the Chosen Lucky birder of the day.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

(Brief) Wood-Warbler Quiz*

1. Which is the largest wood-warbler species in size within North America?

A: Yellow-Breasted Chat (7 inches, compared to the relatively diminutive 4.25 inches of the N. Parula)

2. Which wood-warbler species’ breeding area is the largest in geographical range?

A: Yellow Warbler (among 46 described subspecies in the species, they breed within N., S., and Central America)

3. Fill in the XXX in the following sentence:

Myrtle, Audubon and XXX constitute the six described subspecies within the Yellow-Rumped Warbler species

A: Goldman’s

{i.e., Three Audubon subspecies exist and a fourth Audubon subspecies carries the common name of "Goldman's," while two other subspecies are considered "Myrtle" -- with all of the six subspecies living in defined geographic areas (Dunn & Garrett, "Wood-Warblers," Houghton Mifflin, 1997) }

4. Two species of wood-warblers whose foraging behavior most resembles a nuthatch’s:

a. Yellow and N. Parula
b. Yellow-throated and Black and White
c. Swainson’s and Worm-eating

A: b

5. The following eastern USA wood-warbler species whose populations have most decreased in recent years (according to ongoing monitoring studies, including the Breeding Bird Survey):

a. Yellow
b. Cerulean
c. Black and White

A: Cerulean

* = award yourself 1 point for each correct question; then feel free to check back again for the next quiz in April, 2008. As the months progress, you might enjoy adding your quiz totals from one month to the next. At the end of 2008, I’ll be glad to list the winning quiz taker whose average number of correct answers is among the highest among all quiz takers who submit their 2008 total to me.

If you have missed a quiz in 2008 or do so in the next few months, no worries.

Remember, I’m considering the “average” score per person, so it won’t matter that one quiz winning candidate may have taken every quiz from March, 2008 – December, 2008 while another may have, for example, discovered this blog site beginning in June, 2008.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Birder Admits to Using HGH and Steroids To Improve His Performance on the Trail

(HUMOR with birding/wood-warbler punchlines)

by Daniel Edelstein

In a statement released through his birdwatching agent today, Daniel Edelstein apologized for using human growth hormone (HGH) and steroids to become a better birder.

Here is the text of his statement as it appears on his Web site and from the AP newswire:
First, it’s important to know that contrary to media reports, I have never used steroids. I have no idea why the media would say that I have used steroids. But they forever stained my name (and binocular lens). And they persist in doing so repeatedly. This stain is hurtful to me and my family. We are running out of patience -- and money to buy Shout Away.

Let’s look at the facts. The facts are all that I want -- to borrow a phrase from Joe Friday on the old TV show called Dragnet. In 2005, I injured my arm. So what was I supposed to do? Bird only on the Internet and not hit the trail?

I think not. So, given I had heard that human growth hormone could promote faster healing for my binocular panning skills, it seemed like an easy decision. Besides, I felt an obligation to fellow birders everywhere, especially my chums on our World Series of Birding team.

That’s exactly why people say there’s no “I” in the word “team.” I think they’re referring to my dutiful loyalty when they use that phrase.

Anyway, for this reason, and only this reason, for two days I tried human growth hormone. Hey, it wasn’t against the American Birding Association’s Code of Ethics.

The good news is that I felt guilty, despite the fact I was NOT breaking the rules. So I stopped. That was it. Two days out of my birding life. That’s far less time than the amount you’ve endured standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Did my actions help me get off the birding Disabled List and back on the trail faster than normal? Perhaps. But note that I also concurrently began a vigorous exercise and rehab program. Every night after birding with one hand only, I persevered. I bought a treadmill. I bought an elliptical trainer. I used them. Now they’re in the closet again gathering dust in the same way millions of my fans also avoid exercise at all costs.

But I digress. The important fact is my dedication to rehabbing myself was the true reason I again became a Hall of Fame Birder. It proves Woody Allen is correct in saying: “Ninety percent of success is showing up.” The other 10 percent is hard work -- and having a trainer who doesn’t ask questions when you tell him to inject your wife with the same elixir to make her a better birder.

In closing, if what I did was an error in judgment on my part, then I apologize. I accept responsibility for those two days. Everything else you’ve read about me using illegal drugs is hogwash. I have the utmost respect for the birding world.
I have always tried to live my life as an example for youngsters who have looked up to me as an honorable hero. I have even signed their pleas for autographs.

Well, most of the time. Except for when I have had a bad day on the trail and missed seeing the Swainson’s Warbler while visiting the southeastern USA during breeding season.

So if I have let down my birding fans that care about me, then I’m sorry. I hope you will not let two days of bad judgment ruin my lifetime of hard work. Incurring multiple injuries over the years of my birding career, including chronic Warbler Neck ache each spring season, should not alter my public image.

Again, I beg you to put those two days of impropriety into proper context. People that know me will agree that what I say here is true.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have my family to see and hug. They ask me to autograph their binoculars every day.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

How many different kinds of wood-warblers can I see?

- Annette Bell, Milwaukee, WI

The answer is approximately 52, if you’re talking about regularly-nesting wood-warblers in North America north of Mexico. Another eight non-nesting species often drift into this region, so it’s possible to see approximately 60 wood-warbler species above Mexico.

(Add Central and South America to the USA and Canada to complete the list of all 116 described wood-warbler species that breed in the New World.)

Note that seeing 52 wood-warblers (during one breeding season) would be the Super Bowl of victories for any birder. More realistic is seeing 30 or more wood-warbler species, a total that is not uncommon for the best birders when they’re afield during Prime Time migration in the spring.

I’m no ticker, but I make an exception for the gorgeous wood-warblers. With a tearful apology, you’ll have to excuse me. I’m on my hands and knees with an abacus, declaring the wood-warbler family is the only one for which I’ve ever counted a personal high for species seen in a breeding season: 40 – and, yes, that season’s total included a sighting of the rare Kirtland’s Warbler (often nesting only in Michigan, though some individuals nested in Wisconsin in 2007).

From above, note that the New World is defined as an area encompassing the western hemisphere (including North America). The Old World is the eastern hemisphere, including Europe and Asia. Here, as many as 280 Old World warblers belong in a different family (Sylviidae) than the wood-warblers in the United States and Canada where 51 of the 52 USA/Canadian species are grouped into the Parulidae family. {(The Olive Warbler, a member of the Peucedramidae family, is the only non-Parulidae family member that breeds in the USA (Arizona and New Mexico)}.

Where can you see the greatest number of wood-warblers? In the spring, your best bet is to book a trip to parts of the Appalachian region, New England, Maritime provinces, and several states within the upper Midwest and Great Lakes region. Local Audubon chapters are often the best source for free maps, directions, and expert-led field trips focused on finding wood-warblers.

{(Go online and see www., then click on chapters button at the home page to access a state where its chapters are listed with contact information and upcoming field trips. In choosing your birding locale while traveling in North America, keep in mind the ongoing, rising popularity of wood-warbler chasing in spring. If you choose to visit a public natural area that is highly acclaimed and with which you are unfamiliar, it’s often best to visit on a weekday when the crush of binocular toting enthusiasts is likely to be more sane. Otherwise, you’re risking an encounter of overflowing parking lots and creaking boardwalks where the biomass of intrepid birders may provide a more lasting impression than the birds you see.)

Another hidden travel tip for wood-warbler fans is to go online and navigate a Web site where excellent volunteer birding guides are listed worldwide ( By initiating an email correspondence, you’re likely to have more than a guide by your side helping you find wood-warblers. You might also meet a new birding friend. More than a few ongoing friendships for me have begun while meeting birders from afar as we shared the joy of birds on the trail. Local birders are also often aware of the best local checklist to tick off your new bird sightings.

A compendium of checklists for locations throughout the USA and Canada is titled Distribution Checklist of North American Birds (David DeSante and Peter Pyle, Artemesia Press, 1986). Maps that show the density of wood-warbler abundance and their corresponding locations in the USA appear in The Summer Atlas of North American Birds by Sam Droege and Jeff and Amy Price).}


{(You can ask your wood-warbler question by clicking on the "comments" text, then writing your query. To do so, you must either first register for free, (if you don't yet have a Hotmail email account) or post a comment by clicking on the "anonymous" button whereby you can type your name to reveal your identity, if you wish.)}

{(Comment #6 below is a good question and I've answered it in Comment #7 based on my experience watching wood-warblers in WI (my home state) where I began birding in 1976.)}