Monday, March 11, 2013

A Weekend Without Warblers

Nashville Warbler Sketch by Ken Januski

Prairie Warblers Sketch by Ken Januski

Prothonotary Warblers Sketch by Ken Januski

A weekend without warblers would indeed be a disappointment if it were April or May, especially if I'd been out birding and wasn't limited to my yard. Warblers are quite rare in the backyard, visiting briefly once or twice a year at most. Most of those are Common Yellowthroats. But who can complain about a weekend in March without warblers in the backyard?

Well I and Jerene can but I'm sure we won't get much sympathy.We were lucky enough to have a Nashville Warbler in the backyard for the two weekends before the last one. But we last saw him on March 6. Since he'd previously eluded us for a full week it seemed possible he might still be around but I'm pretty confident now that he's gone for good.

I did try briefly on the day of his last visit to do a field sketch, something I also tried on the day of his first visit. But he left almost instantly and we haven't seen him yet. Was he really that shy? I'm sure that wasn't the cause of his departure! But it did remind me of how difficult it is to draw warblers, even if they manage the unheard of behavior of sitting still, without the aid of magnification.

The details, such as the size and shape of bill, just can't be seen with the naked eye. I took a lot of photos of this bird, more for documentation purposes than anything else. But now that I have them I see how much I missed when just looking with my naked eye.

One of the first impressions Jerene and I had of the Nashville, before we'd identified it  and I think  even before we'd gotten out our binoculars was how long his bill was. And yet when we read about him later I recall that the guides said he had a short bill. Why the difference? This is something that I think comes out in photos or with optics, the true cause of an overall visual impression. The Nashville has a particularly pointed bill. That I think is was made it seem so long when we first saw it.

That in turn got me thinking about other warblers and their bills. The Prothonotary always strikes me as  having a long bill, though nothing like that of the Yellow-throated Warbler. The Black-throated Blue on the other hand seems to have a bit of a stubby bill. These are my impressions and recollections anyway. I'm sure many birders don't notice bills. They're too busy checking all of the more obvious diagnostic marks used for an ID. More experienced birders of course probably are well aware of these details.

In any case the differences in bill shapes of warblers convinced me that I should go through my photos of warblers and do some sketches, trying to capture both the general shape of them, but also their specifics, like bill shape. That is what I've done above with the Nashville from the backyard, some Prairies from near Belleplaine State Forest in New Jersey and some Prothonotaries from Magee Marsh in Ohio. Often the photos still weren't good enough to see all I needed to see. At other times my skills weren't high enough. But it's been a useful exercise and one I hope to continue with other warblers.

The first normal migrants will soon be here. I'd like to be ready for them. Into the breach one more with field sketches of wood warblers!

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