Monday, May 14, 2012

Warbler Heaven

The spring migration of warblers and similar perching birds was at a peak across the Great Lakes the week of May 9.  Fortunately, I was able to visit a hotspot where large hatches of midges provide abundant food for the migrant birds. I'm posting just a sampling of what I found with a link to more images.

Perhaps the most exciting bird was the Prothonotary Warbler.  They were abundant. 

Prothonotary Warbler

Since many of  the midges stay low in these marsh areas, the birds are often at your eye level.  That is not often the situation in most areas where  they are in the tops of the tallest trees.  Since midges do not bite, unlike mosquitoes, it is also easy to concentrate on the birds.

Blackburnian Warbler

A second beautiful little bird was the Black- burnian Warbler.  Once you see one of these, the bird's appearance is burned into your memory.  I think this is also true for the Protho- notary, which is named for its resemblance to the official robes of the European court recorder of earlier times.

The Blackburnians were prevalent in the tree blossoms, likely hunting for insects in the blossoms. As often as not,they were hanging upside down probing through the flowers.

In reviewing my photos at the edit step, I noted another image of a Blackburnian surrounded by midges, so their diet is both insects in the blossoms and the newly hatched midges.

The Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were the third bird that captured my interest. This slender little bird is only about 4 inches long.  I felt lucky to get a clear photo since they seem to move constantly, and are very quick.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 

Another nice warbler made a brief visit, and I felt fortunate to get a photo.  The Palm Warbler is a new bird for me.

If you look closely at the Palm Warbler above, you can see that there is a midge in its beak.  It must have grabbed it as I tracked it in flight. -- I am laughing right now because the computer spell check changed the sentence to say "..  you can see that there is a midget in its beak."  I am sure someone would have called me on that very quickly.--  The Palm Warbler is about 5-1/2 inches long, so a little larger than the gnatcatcher.  

There were other birds to be seen including flycatchers, vireos and orioles. The orioles seem to prefer the cottonwood trees.

I saw this female Redwing Blackbird repeatedly foraging on this willow tree.  Must have been something good there. The  males were not observed feeding, but rather protecting their adjacent nesting territory and presumably singing their virtues to the ladies who were intent on building strength to lay a clutch of eggs. 

I so often see the males with their bright red and yellow wing bands that I overlook the beautiful striping on the females. 

The variety of birds was at times overwhelming to the point that  it was difficult to concentrate on any one bird.  On two occasions, a Prothonotary landed a mere 5 feet from me. Too close to focus on.  

I've come to value the ability to recognize the bird calls by species.  The sound of the different warblers was a key to knowing what to look for.  

A larger set of images are posted on my Flickr pages at:

I'll close with a few technical notes for photographers.  Used a 400 mm f/2.8 lens with 1.4x multiplier; always on a tripod.  Fill flash was used at minus 1ev to minus 2ev depending on sky conditions.  Aperture was f/8 with the ISO ranging from 400 to 800 most often.  Early in the morning I boosted ISO to 1200 or so.

I would like to hear what your favorite image is, and why.

Best regards,

Paul Schmitt

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