Friday, April 18, 2008

Bulletin #34 - Houston warblers

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
April 18, 2008

Bulletin #34 – Upper Texas Coast – warblers

Hello friends,

There was another error in ID on Bulletin #33 last week. My guide Rick Fournier reviewed the photo of the hybrid gull that he had identified as a Glaucous-winged x Herring Gull in the field. He now realizes that it is a Glaucous-winged x Western Gull hybrid like the second hybrid.

However upon further observation from your fine photograph, it suspiciously looks like another Western X Glaucous-winged. Light dusky smudging around the head and neck, bright orange bill with a steep gonyale angle and the dorsal portion doesn't seem light enough for Glaucous-winged. The eye does having some brown flicking but this too is common among Western Gulls.

Let's face it, it's not an exact science!


Spring is migration time through the upper Texas coast and we can have an abundance of birds of different species. But with a cold front accompanied by a north wind and/or rain, the birding can be spectacular. This phenomenon is called a ‘fall-out’ as the birds literally fall out of the sky as soon as they reach the coast after a 600 mile flight across the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. If you are fortunate to be here during a fall-out, there are birds everywhere.

We had a mild fall-out last weekend and great birding was reported from a number of locations. One group of birders in a 3-day period – Friday to Sunday found 192 species. This represents about 30% of all the birds in North America!

I was lucky to be in one of the places in Galveston (LaFitte’s Cove Sanctuary). There were large numbers of warblers (16 species reported in Saturday and Sunday) and large numbers of several of the species.

Of all the bird families, warblers are probably the most difficult to photograph as they move constantly, are small and eat only insects, so they can’t be attracted to bird feeders.

But with a fall-out, there are so many around, that you can have a number of different birds of the same species and finally achieve a photograph or two. This was the case last Saturday, when I was able to get my best photos ever of a number of species as well as 2 new warbler species.

So here are some of the warblers from the weekends fall-out.

First is the ‘bird of the weekend’. This is the Swainson’s Warbler (Limnothylpis swainsonii). This is probably the most difficult warbler for most birders to locate. It is a ground dwelling skulker and brown in color. I have seen it about a dozen times, but not in the last decade and nowhere but at High Island. On Sunday April 13th, I was looking in the underbrush for movement indicating a bird and heard some leaves rustling. Finally I saw the bird about 12 feet away and got some photos. He was so tame, I was able to get some other people also to see him. Normally, if you are fortunate enough to find one, he is 25-40 yards away. I never expected to get a photo without a guide and tape on his breeding grounds.

He is IDed by the rusty cap, and white eye-stripe. He also has a long bill for a warbler and flesh-colored legs. As you can see, he is drab for a warbler, but he is perfectly hidden on the forest floor among the leaves. click ‘next’ once

The Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora pinus) was a new species for me to photograph. He is a bright yellow bird with bluish wings with 2 white wing bars. He also has a black stripe through his eye. The adults are similar coloration. There were 20+ birds of this species and I was able to get good photos of several different birds. Here are a couple of photos. click ‘next’ once

The Yellow-throated Warbler (Dendroica dominica) is a common bird in the southeast USA, but for some reason it seems to always elude me. I have seen it only 4-5 times. However, there was a single bird on Saturday that I found and he was a bare branch 25’ above me, but I was able to get the camera on him for some photos. This was also a new species for me to photograph.

He is black and white, with a bright yellow throat. The sexes are similar. He is very distinctive and easy to ID if you find one. click ‘next’ once

The Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea) is my wife’s favorite. She birds with me occasionally and has seen this canary-like bird. I found a single bird on Saturday and he was at eye level, so I obtained my best photos ever of him. He is bright yellow with grayish wings. He somewhat resembles the Blue-winged Warbler above, but lacks the wing bars and black line through the eye. The sexes are similar coloration, but the male is a brighter yellow. click ‘next’ once

The Black-throated Green Warbler (Dendroica virens) is a common bird. There were 20+ individuals on Saturday. The bird has a yellow face, green back, and black on throat and chest. This is a male bird. The female has a white chin. I don’t have a photo of her yet. click ‘next’ once

The Tennessee Warbler (Vermivora peregrina) is a drab bird with olive back, gray head and whitish breast. There were multiple birds present, but I got only 1 good photo. The sexes are similar in color.

Lastly is a common bird that is basic colored, but is one of my favorite warblers. The Black-and-white Warbler (Mniotilta varia) has the unique feeding habit of climbing up and down the trunk and large branches of trees to pick insects from the bark. This is similar to the way nuthatches feed.

They have a striped head. The male in the first photo has a black cheek patch. The female in the second photo has white cheeks. click ‘next’ once

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2008 David McDonald

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