Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Magee Marsh: Cold Day Strategy

Bad photo of a good bird: "Yellow" Palm Warbler, the eastern subspecies of Palm Warbler, at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area on April 10, 2012. The vast majority of the Palm Warblers that migrate through Ohio are of the western subspecies. Photo by Kenn Kaufman.
April 10, 2012: With temperatures in the low 40s today, and with strong winds out of the west-northwest for the last couple of days, conditions were feeling a little less favorable for those migrant birds that had just arrived Saturday night.  When conditions are chilly and windy in the Magee Marsh area, we have a standard birding strategy: we look for birds on the downwind, sheltered side of the woods.  We move slowly and quietly, and watch for birds to be foraging relatively low.  That was the strategy that worked well this afternoon.  At the Magee Marsh boardwalk, migrants were concentrated toward the east end, foraging low along the east-southeast side of the woods, close to the canal that parallels that part of the boardwalk.

This afternoon that area held several dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers and smaller numbers of Fox Sparrows, Hermit Thrushes, White-throated Sparrows, Winter Wrens, Rusty Blackbirds, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  Our first local Palm Warbler of the season was there also, and it showed the color pattern of the eastern subspecies -  Setophaga palmarum hypochrysea, the "Yellow" Palm Warbler.  This is a fairly rare bird in Ohio; the vast majority of the Palm Warblers that migrate through here are of the "western" subspecies, Setophaga palmarum palmarum (which nests from western Quebec all the way west to the edge of the Canadian Rockies).  "Yellow" Palms nest mainly in eastern Quebec, the Maritime Provinces, and Maine, and they migrate mostly up the Atlantic Coast in spring. They tend to migrate earlier than "western" Palm Warblers, so perhaps it's not surprising that the earliest individual here was a stray from this population. Ethan Kistler and I had a good study of this individual, noting the completely yellow underparts and the broad chestnut streaks at the sides of the chest.  Palm Warblers from the expected "western" race should be here soon, since this is typically one of the earliest warblers to arrive. 

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