Friday, September 2, 2011

Tips for Finding Fall Warblers

This female Blackburnian Warbler was photographed in spring, but some fall females are very similar. Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Ohio. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.

Northwestern Ohio is famous as “The Warbler Capital of the World” in spring, when warblers and other migratory songbirds are heavily concentrated in the woodlots along Lake Erie. During the fall, migrants are not so concentrated. They tend to be quieter in fall than in spring, and the denser foliage of this season adds to the challenge of finding them. But a determined birder can still find plenty of warblers in September, and their fall plumages often have a special, subtle beauty. Here are some things to keep in mind while seeking them.

Find the Flocks: During the fall, even more than during spring, migrant warblers tend to be concentrated in flocks. The flocks may be only loosely organized, and they may contain only a few individuals, but they are out there and worth finding.

In between flocks, you may not find any birds at all, and the woods may seem way too quiet. Barry McEwen and I birded a section of Sidecut Metropark this morning (Friday Sept. 2), and at one point we went almost 15 minutes without seeing a single bird – but then we found a flock that included Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted, and other warblers, as well as Warbling Vireos and other birds. Later, after another quiet stretch, we found a concentration that included Wilson’s, Tennessee, and Magnolia warblers, plus American Redstarts and others. This is typical of what we expect in fall, and it suggests two strategic approaches:

1. Don’t give up too quickly. If you’re seeing no birds at all, move along and look and listen for a flock. These flocks can be inconspicuous, so you need to watch for movement and listen for chip notes. Warblers often associate with chickadee flocks, so if you hear chickadees, track them down and look for warblers with them. In areas where chickadees are scarce (like some woods on the immediate shoreline of Lake Erie), the warblers may hang around with flocks that have Downy Woodpeckers as their core species.

2. When you do find a flock, stick with it as long as possible, or until you’re sure you’ve seen all the birds involved, because it may be a while before you find anything else!

Look high and low. Literally. We may think of warblers as treetop birds, but especially in fall, some will be foraging close to the ground. Weedy edges of woodlots may be very good for some species. Dense stands of goldenrod or wingstem (which are blooming now) may hold species like Tennessee Warbler or Wilson’s Warbler. And some warblers, such as Ovenbird, Connecticut Warbler, and the two waterthrushes, do most of their foraging on the ground.

Start early. No, not necessarily early in the day, but early in the fall season. This year, according to Mark and Julie Shieldcastle, the BSBO main research station had already banded 20 species of warblers by the end of August. Early to mid-September is the peak season for diversity of warblers. If you wait until fall colors paint the trees, most of the warblers will have gone south.

Of course, different species have somewhat different timing. Yellow Warbler and Golden-winged Warbler tend to be very early fall migrants, becoming hard to find by the middle of September. Yellow-rumped Warbler and the scarcer Orange-crowned Warbler are late migrants, seldom seen until the latter half of September. So to see the full range of fall warblers, it helps to go out repeatedly from late August to early October.


Unknown said...

Excellent tips! I look forward to seeing many life birds, and hopefully a bunch of new warblers. I really look forward to meeting Kenn and Kim!

JM said...

Great tips Kenn! Hoping to find a few off-course eastern warblers out here in Tucson.

Lori Zolman said...

I am seeing SO many warblers in my yard this year and reading your tips is exactly what I have noticed! I LOVE IT!

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