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home : birding w/don reimer : birding w/don reimer
January 29, 2020

5/10/2012 9:57:00 AM
Three Early Warblers -
A Palm Warbler, left; a male Yellow-Rumped Warbler, right. Photos by Don Reimer
A Palm Warbler, left; a male Yellow-Rumped Warbler, right. Photos by Don Reimer
A Pine Warbler
A Pine Warbler
by Don Reimer

For many Maine bird watchers, spring is personified by the arrival of two dozen or so species of wood warblers. Adorned in their brightest breeding plumage, these small active creatures have been aptly described as feathered jewels. At springtime hotspots, such as Evergreen Cemetery in Portland and Monhegan Island, warblers should be swarming by mid- to late May. Through the seasonal migration periods and the summer breeding season, Maine plays host to over 30 warbler species.

Some warblers simply pass through our area en route to boreal nesting sites farther north or to Down East locations. Routinely we get "overshoot" species from southern breeding zones. Birds such as Hooded and Worm-Eating Warblers eventually reverse their compass bearings and retreat southward. The major pulse of the neo-tropical warblers that cross or circumnavigate the Gulf of Mexico will occur in later May.

April warbler activity is slow, but several early species arrive before the trees leaf out. Three species in particular come to mind: Yellow-Rumped, Pine and Palm warblers. These individuals winter within the continental US and, hence, are already stationed nearer to northern nesting grounds. Upon reaching their spring destinations, each species occupies a different habitat niche.

By warbler standards, the Yellow-Rumped Warbler is relatively large and heavy-bodied. A few of these birds remain in the north and are occasionally detected on Maine's Christmas Bird Counts. To survive, Yellow-Rumps manage to switch from their summer diet of insects to winter fruits such as the waxy bayberries that grow along coastal headlands. The bird's scientific name, Dendroica coronata, actually refers to its yellow crown stripe rather than its yellow rump. "Rumps" nest in sections of mature mixed woodland but prefer spruce, fir and hemlock forest.

As its name implies, the Pine Warbler is found almost exclusively in stands of tall eastern pines. These are robust greenish-backed warblers with a yellowish throat and breast. Two prominent white wingbars, a sturdy black bill and relatively long tail help to characterize the species. Their green and yellow plumage serves as perfect camouflage for life amid the pine tassels. Occasionally Pine Warblers overwinter in Maine, visiting suet and seed feeders. The Pine Warbler's pleasant song is an even-pitched trill that varies in speed.

In its New England summer haunts, the Palm Warbler has no connection with palm trees. Instead it nests on the mossy ground in spruce bogs interspersed with small trees and open spaces, such as the Rockland Bog. This bird is a real tail-bobber, constantly raising and lowering its tail in a rapid fashion. Palm Warblers have a rufous cap and bright yellow streaked breast. The undertail feathering is also a deep yellow. With two recognizable races, the eastern subspecies is much yellower overall.

Now is a good time of year to browse through that old field birding guide and review the warbler pages. In their crisp spring breeding plumages, warblers will be much easier to identify than the molting, faded birds of fall.

Whenever possible, study a bird carefully in the field before resorting to the field guide. Often fatigued as they seek food in unfamiliar surroundings on the long migration route, warblers sometimes provide close and confiding views to fortunate birders.

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