Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Black-throated Green and Magnolia Warblers

Early this afternoon, several Magnolia and Black-throated Green Warblers visited the oaks around our back yard, along with a feeding flock of Chickadees, Titmice, Downy Woodpeckers and two Brown-headed Nuthatches. For more than an hour, the trees – which have often seemed disturbingly quiet and almost empty lately – were lively with activity.

It was a beautiful bright sunny day, with a deep blue sky, pleasantly warm, and Cloudless Sulphur Butterflies here and there. Both warbler species stayed much deeper in the leaves than the Chickadees, Titmice and Nuthatches. The Magnolia Warblers fed separately, each one traveling quickly from spot to spot in the oaks, never staying put for long. Their deep yellow breasts with prominent black streaks on the sides were the first thing to catch the eye; then the thick white markings on the wings, white under-tail coverts, and thin white eye-ring. One, I think, was a first-winter male, with few or no streaks on the sides, but a pure yellow throat and breast. Although the wide white band in the tail is what usually identifies them quickly for me, I never saw it clearly this time, because I couldn’t see them well when they flew, only when they were moving along the branches.

The Black-throated Greens seemed more sociable, though maybe that was just the way I happened to see them that day. They came out into the open more often, and seemed to be moving together, two or three at a time. They also seemed to be less fluttery than the Magnolias, more deliberate, more likely to sit and look around from time to time.

The image that will stay most in my mind is of three Black-throated Green Warblers in full view near the end of a cluster of branches, surrounded by oak leaves. Their olive green and yellow markings looked as if they had been created by a mingling of sunlight and tree shadows – green head and back, yellow face with a distinctive olive pattern around the eyes. The rest – white bars on grayish wings, and pale breast streaked with black on the sides and toward the middle – seemed only an afterthought. None of the ones I saw appeared to have a black throat, so I think they were probably females.

Although Black-throated Green Warblers are widespread and fairly common in northeastern forests and into the Appalachians, they only pass through here in migration, so for me they’re always a fleeting and almost dream-like sight – here one afternoon, gone the next.


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