Northland Nature: Warblers and vireos arriveLike many other things this strange spring of 2013, the bird migration has been unique.
Like many other things this strange spring of 2013, the bird migration has been unique.
Earlier returnees of red-winged blackbirds and robins needed to deal with record snowfalls that were not likely in their plans for the trip north. Such a thick snowy blanket caused a much later ice-out than expected and this led to water birds landing in nearly any body of water that was available.
This resulted in seeing some unexpected birds in some unexpected locations. The smaller wetlands held open water before the lakes did, and traveling waterfowl found these sites as okay places to rest in.
I saw birds that I had not seen before in a pond that I frequently visit. It is not unusual to see ducks here, but this spring I was able to observe a loon and a red-necked grebe, not seen here before. One day, I came across five yellowlegs along the shore. After a wait of a few weeks, the lakes opened about mid-May and the impatient water wanderers moved on.
By this time of May, the migration has become that of the songbirds. Like the ducks, geese, swans, grebes and pelicans, they are arriving a bit later than usual. However, with some looking and listening, I have been able to find many of these small birds.
Songbirds in general are little, and they live up to their name with frequent singing. More vocalization is done on their home territorial lands, but some sing while enroute. Migration is normally at night, even though the birds tend to be diurnal. Each morning in late May, I can now step outside and catch up on the news of the next batch of arrivals.
And there is news out here every day.
At the swamp where the male red-winged blackbirds have been calling for more than a month, the females have now arrived. Here too is the trill of the swamp sparrow, while a song sparrow sings along the shore, a savannah sparrow buzzes from a nearby field, and the white-throated sparrow whistles in the woods.
Although we have a variety of sparrows in the Northland, it is the warblers that now show their annual spring diversity. Twenty-six species come by each year, with about half staying to nest.
Though it is difficult to find all, some searching can turn up a dozen in a day.
They tend to be small; and though some are colorful and a few sing loudly, most are not. With the leaves growing in the trees, they can be a challenge to see. Ovenbirds and yellowthroats may be the loudest as they sing, from the forest and swamp respectively. The black-red redstart is colorful, and yellow stands out on several such as Nashville, pine, parula and yellow warblers. Others such as black and white warblers and waterthrushes are less colorful.
Besides these minute birds of the woods, we have others of note. I have recently been watching the newly arrived rose-breasted grosbeaks and least flycatchers. While the grosbeak is colorful with a loud song, the small flycatcher is gray and repeats a two-syllable call.
Also in the woods, I have been seeing the vireos.
Only slightly bigger than warblers, this group of birds may also be hard to see. But unlike the highly variable warblers, we have only a few kinds of vireos in the region and they are not as actively moving in the tree tops.
During the last few days, I have discovered and watched three kinds in the woods. Each one of these vireos is named after body parts: red-eyed, blue-headed and yellow-throated; but each one I was able to
locate by hearing the song. All sing short-phrase songs, and vary in clarity and loudness.
Though the red-eyed is by far the most common, nesting in several sites in these woods during this time of migration, it was the blue- headed and yellow-throated vireos that I saw first.
And I’m especially grateful that the yellow-throated vireos will
remain here to breed as well. Not as common as red-eyed vireos, the
yellow-throat continues to sing its short slurred-phrase and I look forward to hearing them every day during the coming breeding season.
The songbird migration is a little slow this year, but dozens of species are here now and invite us out for a look. Each day brings more to see. Many will stay while others keep moving.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including
“Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.