Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Warblers Sought in the Empire of the Pines
April 26, 2014
by Steve Grinley

     Spring has finally taken hold and the southwest winds are propelling our early migrants into New England. A few hummingbirds have arrived in the state and our earliest warblers – the palm, pine and yellow-rumped warblers – are arriving in good numbers. Doug Chickering of Groveland shares with us his quest for one of those warblers:

     “The world outside has only the vaguest notion of what we encounter when were seek after our birds. They know that there is such a thing as sparrow, gull, hawk, jay, Robin, and others. If you speak of Sandpipers or even falcons they seem to understand, in the vaguest way, what you are referring to. In an odd sketchy way this we share with those on the outside. 

     “What is entirely ours, however, are the warblers. Rare is the non-birder who has ever heard of warblers. The Warblers are cosa nostre — “our thing”– and the love of this small active passerine is pretty much universal among birders. Even the most dedicated hawk watcher on station at parking Lot#1 on Plum island will break to take a look at that Cape May reported in the S Curves. 

     “Now it is April and the warblers have just started to arrive in their usual orderly fashion. We have already seen a few Yellow-rumps that have had the stones to winter over; but this year there were only a few of those and they were in their winter drab colors. The first true migrant warblers are just coming in. Even though I haven’t heard of any Louisiana Waterthrush yet I know that the Palm Warblers are here as are the Pines. Lois and I have yet to come across a Palm Warbler, but the spring is young. 

     “These last few days we have been engaged in checking out those places where we find Pine Warblers. Unlike the Palm Warblers, the Pine Warbler’s name is directly associated with where they nest. Anyplace where there are pines, Pine Warblers are possible; and Lois and I have seen them in multiple pine groves. 

     “We have our favorite spots. Those places were the pine trees are clustered and very high; these empires of pines seem to be the most reliable and consistent spots! For us there is Mosely Pines in Newburyport, or Harold Parker State park in Andover and in recent years our prime hot spot has been Chebacco Road in Hamilton. That was where we went this year. 

     “Most of the time when we find Pine Warbler we locate them first by their musical trill and then after, arduous search spot one high up at the top of the canopy. Sometimes we can get them perching still as they sing, but more often than not they hop from branch to branch; from one hiding place to another. It can be a combination of delight at seeing one, and frustration at having such short and fleeting looks. It is after all, quite a beautiful bird. 

     “This year, however we were lucky. It is not the first time we have been fortunate, but we have never seen one better than last Monday. The bird dropped down low,down to the bare skeletal branches just above eye level in the pine. And there we feasted on the bright yellow of the breast; brighter than the field guides would have you expect. There was the pristine white of the undersides and clean olive of the back. And the streaking on this bird was unusually crisp. This male was fresh and new and ready for the adventure ahead. 

     “So it has started. Through the long wait, through the cold and frost spring has begun. The skunk cabbage if pushing up in the swamps, the forsythia is blooming and the Warblers are just arriving. Now this is something to fill the heart with joy.”

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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