Sunday, 20 May 2018

Warbler Warbler on the wall... who is the most beautiful of all...

Here is how my story goes - the plot was - hunt the warblers among other birds in North America. Unlike the old world warblers - where they are referred too as 'Little Brown Jobs' - the warblers of North America or the 'New World' are small and mostly bright coloured making them a pleasure to see and less difficult to recognise. So when I planned to include a visit to the US for birdwatching - one of my main birds to hunt and see were a million warblers there. For that, I had work to do and I got on to it right away. I studied the warblers that are in North America, especially the states of New York and Texas - that I had intended to visit. There are a total of 56 or so warblers in North America and that is one hell of a study. It is a hell of a study as they may have beautiful brilliant colours or may be drab coloured. But this is just the beginning, the variations move on to males and females having different or sometimes the same plumage and this plumage varies in spring, fall, first year and later and million other factors. but let me add once again, inspite of that - they are not as difficult as the Old World Warblers.

A beautiful Male Prothonotary Warbler
The life is what it is... I am a firm believer that hard work alone does not produce the results. While I was in the army one of my senior's favourite quote was - "if hard work is all that is required for good results then the donkeys should have got it all." I do agree with him to some extent - hard work is one of the things in a very complex world that leads to success. Luck is another factor in this maze and then there are other things are destiny and the environment that either coax you towards success or otherwise. This may seem like a lesson in life but as far as I am concerned - this is what I undergo while I travel for Birding (aka Birdwatching)

Louisiana Waterthrush

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle): Had multiple sighting of this beauty

Palm Warbler: was commonly seen...

After that I had to fine tune my visit to the US so that I catch the migration otherwise most of the warblers would be in South America and I will be running circles. Here is where the hard work let me down. As I studied the migration I realised that migrations starts end March and continues through May and June. I planned the trip for the entire month of April - starting from 2nd till 28th. Now - this time of the year it is the spring migration - meaning that the birds move up North from South America - so ideally I should have planned my trip starting from Texas and then to New York but I had to plan it, New York, first and then Texas next. I did not consider it too much of a problem as I had expected the migrating birds to reach there - by 12th April or so I was there.

Tennessee Warbler
Next, I eagerly waited for days to pass and the D-Day to come. A few weeks short of my visit I searched for the best warbler sites and came to a conclusion that 'Central Park' in New York is a big bird magnet. The birds that are tired and see nothing but bright lights of the city see the central park as an Oasis and dash for it, then they stay for some time - gathering the strength back, refuelling before moving on. Many stay there in the park itself or so I was told.
A male Yellow-rumped Warbler in Breeding Plumage

While searching for bird guides, I came across 'The Birdman of Central Park' - also fondly known as Birding Bob (his mail ID, a youtube video link and contact are at the end of the write-up). I contacted him and he gave me a schedule of the bird walks that were planned the following few days. I also tied up a private bird walk. Like I said earlier - the Luck part was the one I did not anticipate - when I last contacted him, I was on a plane to the US at a layover in Munich. His reply was prompt. The weather was anticipated to be rainy and his daily bird walks for 3rd and 4th  April was called off. Also, Central Park was at quite a distance from where I was staying so all in all I walked down to Highland Park on 3rd and Forest Park on 5th - and yes there was rain and the birding was kind of a washed off.
Kentucky Warbler

I did, however, manage to log my lone first warbler of the Trip - a Palm Warbler, a warbler that was sighted a number of times during my trip. The rain and the chilling cold did have a negative that I had not anticipated - there were no migrating birds and a million warblers that I had expected. My meeting with Birding Bob finally took place on 7th and though the day was wonderful - I logged 38 species - it is the warblers that were largely missing with only three of them showing. So I finished the first part of the trip to New York and New Jersey with only four warblers and only three of which I could photograph.

Northern Parula - sighted only two birds during the trip...

Same Northern Parula as above

Pine Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Northern Waterthrush

Female Prothonotary Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Northern Waterthrush

Female Prothonotary Warbler

Black and White Warbler

Same bird as above


Same Ovenbird as above

I landed in Houston where I had expected the migration to have been full swing by 13th Apr. I had tied up birding trips with Mr Bill, who does full-time birding tours. I had tied up with him for one half day tour and another full day tour. On both days we were to visit a place - the High Island - a place that I was told the migrating birds see as an island of hope and head towards after the arduous migration across the sea. We finished the day (18 April) as we visited the High Island on day one. I was disappointed as far as warblers were concerned. The count was just three warblers, Tennessee, Kentucky and Hooded Warblers. Though this did take my count to 6 warblers - but then it left a hole in my heart...

The second visit was the following Saturday, the 21st April. The day was not as bad as a cold front did help stop the migration and there was more activity - but my Warbler count today was 6 species Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush, Black & White Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Tennessee Warbler and Hooded Warbler. That was in no way bad but that was way too low a count of my expectations. It is those times that I remembered the old saying - 'If wishes were horses... beggars would ride...' and I put a cap on my expectations and went home and slept. It rained cats and dogs that night and the fall happened - only I could not go out birding due to some previous appointments.

My cousin, in whose house I was staying in Houston were now convinced that I am an 'Unsusal Indian' who chases the wrong kind of birds. (I dread that had I visited them and chased the feathered variety of birds 25 years back - it would have been tough. Well now that I was a happily married 'Indian' of 25 years married life so I was not being hounded). Bill had dropped me home after a long birding day at almost midnight and next day I woke up late. As I opened my eyes my cousin and my wife were all over me - they were shouting excitedly - there is a bird on the porch. With my eyes barely open I grabbed the camera and rushed down - to find a bird huddled in the corner. My heart almost sank - my first thought was that yesterday's storm has injured this bird. I did take a picture and then tried to catch that bird so that I could administer first aid. Before I could approach it  - it shook its wings and flew off. I was so very happy - the bird was well and that is all that I had wanted. Now the moment I saw it I knew that it was a warbler - but which one? It took me a day of enquiring Mr Bill on the email and waiting for a reply - well it was the Worm-eating Warbler.
Worm-eating Warbler - I was so very happy when it hopped and flew away...

That took my score to the high of 13 warbler - my lucky number. I did two more days of birding with Mr Bill and travelled almost 250 miles the first day as I tried to hunt down some more warblers. Though we did sight warblers on those two days, they were the repeats of the previous days and the score remained 13 as I took the plane back to India. Oh! how I would love to be back to the USA someday to continue my count... I came for birding and in addition to birding took back some awesome memories and made some great friends. If they ever read my blog - I would love to thank Bob, Bill and Cindy for being patient and not blowing the top for every time I ran away chasing the bird leaving everyone back waiting for me.

Generally, I do not shy away from choosing a winner in a beauty contest as far as birds are concerned - but this time over the competition is just too tough even with less than expected participants. Palm Warbler, Tennessee Warbler and the Yellow-rumped Warbler gave good sightings. Northern Parula was beautiful and gave me a song to remember, Hooded and Kentucky Warblers were too beautiful not to get a prize. Ovenbird and Waterthrushes were beautiful in their own right and rarities. So here I am without a winner.

Contact details of Birding Bob (for birding in Central Park) and Mr Bill (for birding in Texas)given below. Both of them were great birders, good human beings and wonderful Bird guides.

Birding Bob - (all details and schedules are available on his website)
Contact 347-703-5554 (US number, use the country code)
email: (Mail him after establishing contact as the emails tend to be trashed if not from known ID)

Bill the birder - Bill Goloby, Director, Penfeathers Tours, LLC
Contact: 713-542-3473, 832-698-1175 (US number, use country code)