The past week I have been astounded with the array of warblers that we are seeing in our garden and on walks in the neighborhood. The big attraction in the garden is the native pink flowering dogwood tree (Cornus florida ‘Rubra’), my neighbor’s maple tree and the tiny insects feeding there, and our funky weathered old bird bath. There has been so much activity in the bird bath we are changing the water several times a day! Perhaps the travelers are dusty and dirty and appreciate the fresh bathing water.
One of the most fun to see was an American Redstart and the new-to-my-eyes Bay-breasted Warbler.
We also had a trio of black and white birds for an afternoon, the Black and White Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and a female Yellow-rumped Warbler.
Black and White Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, and Yellow-rumped Warbler
There’s much that could be written about each species. I’m posting these photos for ID purposes in case anyone else has noticed a recent influx of warblers in your backyard or neighborhood. Please write if you do. Thank you!
Foraging energetically amidst the expiring sunflower stalks and then darting to the thicketed woodland edge, a mixed flock of adult and juvenile Common Yellowthroats is finding plenty of fat bugs to eat in these early days of autumn.
Common Yellowthroat female juvenile
Yellowthroats breed in cattail patches at our local North Shore marshes and will soon be heading south to spend the winter in the Southeastern US, Mexico, and Central America.
The above male in breeding plumage was seen taking a bath in our garden several years ago.
Recently I asked my friend Paul Wegzyn, owner of School Street Sunflowers, if I could poke around his sunflower field after it had closed for the season. The field had not yet been turned over to prepare for planting a winter cover crop and with all the expiring flowers, I thought perhaps it might be a wonderful place to photograph. He is so kind and said surely, no problem.
Suffice it to say, Paul’s field far exceeded my expectations for dreamy “expiring” beauty. The sunflowers not only provide myriad species of wildlife with seeds, but the tall, sturdy heads and leaves make for an outstanding songbird perch. The Song Sparrows use the sunflower heads to both forage and groom, the warblers for cover as they are hunting insects, and the most ingenious of all is how the Bobolinks make use of the seed heads. The grass that grows in and amongst the sunflowers is nearly as tall as the flower heads. The Bobolink lands on the sunflower and after thoroughly eyeballing the surrounding landscape for danger (hawks, I imagine), she slides a mouthful of grass seeds down the stalk and into her beak.
Over a period of several days I counted between half a dozen to a dozen Bobolinks, all females and immatures, not a single adult male amongst the flock. I wonder if the males migrate earlier than the females and immatures or if this was just a fluke. The males are striking in their crisp coat of black, white, and yellow, while the female’s feathers look nothing like the male’s wing patterning. (Thank you to author John Nelson for the positive bird ID!)
Male and female Bobolink, image courtesy The Bobolink Project
School Street Sunflowers has been providing a fantastic source of fuel for this super long distant migrant. At this time of year Bobolinks eat seeds and grains, switching over to insects during the breeding season.The Bobolink’s journey is an impressive 6,000 mile trek and they can fly 1,100 miles in a single day. Each year Bobolinks fly approximately 12,500 miles round trip and during the course of an average Bobolink’s life span, they will have traveled a distance equal to circumnavigating the earth four to five times.
Bobolinks are, as are many species of grassland birds, in overall decline. In some areas of New England they are recovering, due in large part to the success of The Bobolink Project. Because Bobolinks nest on the ground and because hay fields are typically planted and mowed earlier than in previous decades, the nest, eggs, and nestlings are churned up in plowing. The Bobolink Project is non profit organization that pays farmers to plant and to mow a little later in the season, which allows the birds to mature to fledge.
Note how well hidden is the Bobolink nest
Above photo gallery courtesy The Bobolink Project
Because of habitat loss, the use of neonicotinoids, and global climate change, grassland species need our help. Like other charismatic species of wildlife–Monarchs, Snowy Owls, and Piping Plovers come to mind–perhaps the Bobolink can be that grassland flagship species that people get excited about. Understanding a wild creature’s life story and lending a helping hand also provides habitat conservation for other species of wildlife as well.
Male Common Yellowthroat fluffing and drying feathers after his many baths.
Splashing, and then dashing to a nearby tree, splashing and dashing again, and then returning for yet a third bath, this little male Common Yellowthroat seemed to relish in the fresh water at our birdbath. His more subduedly colored mate stayed well hidden and close to the ground and I was thrilled to see them both. This sweet pair of warblers have been in our garden for several days now and perhaps they’ll build their nest here!
Common Yellowthroats were at one time common however, their numbers have been steadily decreasing since the 1960s. Throughout the yellowthroat’s range they are suffering from habitat degradation and loss. Because they live in wetlands and eat primarily insects they, like countless wild creatures, are adversely affected by pesticides and poor water quality.