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Posts Tagged ‘warbler’

The last few days I have been struck again by some fundamental differences between birders and photographers. In simple (and overgeneralized) terms, birders tend to be more scientific in their approach and photographers tend to be more artistic.

Most birders keep detailed records of what they see when they go out for a walk and have life lists of species they have observed. They know about the ranges of each species for each season and can often recognize a bird from its call. Any sighting of a bird “counts,” even if the bird is far away and a photo of it is tiny and blurry, though a photo is not an absolute requirement.

Many photographers like me don’t keep track of all that they see—if I am not able to get a shot of a bird that I spot, preferably a good shot, I mentally erase the sighting from my memory. I have not studied and internalized information about most bird species and therefore have trouble determining if a species is rare or common. That distinction does not really matter to me as I am generally more focused on getting a well-composed shot in decent light with an interesting pose, ideally a dynamic pose. I was therefore excited by the sequence of shots that I captured of a bald eagle taking off when I did a photowalk on Thursday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and immediately posted those images in posting on Friday morning.

I also took some shots of a small yellow bird on the icy surface of a small pond. I really did not know what it was, but suspected that it was some kind of warbler. I posted a photo on the Virginia Birding Facebook forum and asked for help. The response that I got from birders was immediate and excited—I was asked to document the sighting in eBird, an online database of bird observations with real-time data about bird distribution and abundance, and to repost the photo in the Virginia Notable Bird Sightings Facebook forum.

Why were the birders so excited? The bird, I was told, is a Nashville Warbler (Leiothlypis ruficapilla). According to the moderator of the Virginia Notable Bird Sightings forum, current records for Nashville Warblers are “very sparse on the East Coast. There are no other winter records for the species currently input to eBird at Occoquan NWR so this is quite remarkable.”  Apparently this is really late in the season to see a species that should have migrated through our area quite a while ago.

As for me, I am happy with the way I was able to capture the warbler’s reflection on the ice and the natural framing of the subject by the vegetation. The fact that it is a rare sighting at this time of the year is at best of secondary importance to me.

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Warblers are migrating southward through my area at this time of the year. Although I can sometimes hear them, most often they stay hidden behind the foliage. I was happy therefore when I caught site of this Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum), one of our most common warblers, this past week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

When I initially spotted this little bird, it was feeding in the grass, as shown in the second image. The warbler was part of a small group and all of them appeared to be really skittish and took to the air when I was still a long way off. Fortunately one of them flew into a tree and paused momentarily, allowing me to get a mostly unobstructed shot of it.

Most of the warblers remain in our area for a short period of time, so I am never confident when or if I will see any of them. I guess that the best way to increase my odds is to spend more time outside with my camera at the ready.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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A couple of weeks ago I spotted a colorful Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) building a nest in a nesting box at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. The warbler made multiple trips to the nest carrying a variety of materials in its bill. Each time that it got ready to leave the box, the warbler would stick its head out and look around. Although I tried repeatedly to capture the bird in flight as it left the box, the last image was the only one that was partially successful.

I am finally catching up on a backlog of photos—normally I post my photos within a few days of shooting them.

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I spotted my first warbler of the spring, a Palm Warbler (Setophaga palmarum). For several weeks, I have been diligently searching the ground and the trees for warblers, whose appearance marks the beginning of spring for some birders. It was not surprising that the first one I saw was a Palm Warbler, because they are traditionally one of the earliest species to arrive, but I was a little surprised to find several of them at water’s edge, poking about in the rocks and the debris. In the past, I have most often spotted them on the grassy trails.

I was not able to get close to these little warblers, so my normal temptation was to crop my images, as I did in the first one, in order to highlight the bird. As I was working on the second image, I decided I liked the idea of including more of the environment, even though it is a bit cluttered. What do you think?

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Leaves are now falling from the trees, making my walks though the woods increasingly crunchy. I feel like I am announcing my presence to all of the birds as I approach them. This little Yellow-rumped Warbler (Setophaga coronata) lifted its head for a moment to check me out, then returned to its foraging among the fallen leaves, probably having decided that I did not represent a threat.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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At this time of the year Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata) are probably the most numerous warblers in our area. You can often seem them in constant motion flitting about high in the trees. They rarely stay still for more than a moment and it is unusual to get a clear view of the entire body of one.

I have spent a lot of time this week patiently tracking these little birds at several locations at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife  Refuge and managed to get a few shots that I really like. The first image shows a Yellow-rumped Warbler perched at ground level on the trunk of a tree that had fallen across the road and had been cut up and moved to the side. I particularly like that it shows the tiny feet of this bird that is about 5 inches in length (13 cm). The little yellow streaks just under the wings help to identify this as a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

The second image, possibly my favorite, shows the yellow patch on the bird’s rump that is responsible for its name. The intense focus of the warbler as it looks upward help to give this image a dynamic element that is absent in many images of perched birds.

The final image has a studio-like feel to it, because the sky was completely overcast and turned white as I was processing the image. I had tracked the bird when it entered into the vegetation and managed to get this shot when it finally popped up at the top of the tree and stretched its neck to look around.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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In the autumn, various species of warblers fly through our area as they migrate south and I spent a large amount of time this past Friday trying to get shots of what I believe were mostly Palm Warblers (Setophaga palmarum). Warblers in general are tough for me to identify, even in the spring when the colors and patterns on the birds are bright and distinctive. At this time of the year, however, all of the colors and patterns are muted and many species look really similar to me.

Palm Warblers are a little easier to spot than most warblers to identify, because they often can be found pecking away on the ground rather than in trees, as you can see in the second shot. Although I usually strive to get unobstructed shots of my subject, the first image is my clear favorite of the three in this posting. The branch in the foreground that partially blocks the bird helps in the composition, I think, and reinforces the sense of the elusiveness and caution of this little warbler.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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