The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Migrating Warblers, Another Spring Highlight
by Ro Wauer

Although there are lots of signs of spring all around us, none are as special as finding springtime warblers. Then they are all dressed for courtship, their plumage bares all the finery of the spring season. Those that pass through South Texas will soon be singing their unique songs from ancestral territories to the north. While of the northbound species will remain in northern Texas, such as black-and-white and prothonotary warblers and northern parulas, the majority will continue northward, some as far north as Northern Canada and Alaska.

I often find the more common migrating warblers in my yard near Mission Valley. These usually include the yellow-rumped, northern parula, Nashville, and black-and-white, probably in that order of abundance. But finding some of the others, especially those that stay awhile and especially those that decide to bathe in one of my birdbaths, is really special! And even more special is watching one of these little jewels of the songbird world that I have never before found in my yard, bathe right in front of me. That is exactly what happed last week when I suddenly discovered a cerulean warbler, a species I had never yet seen in my yard (yard bird number 178), spend a few minutes with me, Betty and son Brent, at my birdbath.

For non-birders, a cerulean warbler might be just another migratory bird passing through our area en route elsewhere. But for birders, who understand that this particular warbler has been seen less and less over the years and is being considered by many folks as endangered or threatened, seeing a cerulean warbler is indeed extra special. Ceruleans are not the most colorful of warblers, but they possess a true beauty of their own. My cerulean male was bluish, actually cerulean blue, above, brightest on the crown, two white wingbars, and with white underparts with a darker but incomplete chest band. And in the sunlight, its cerulean blue features were remarkable.

There were a few others warblers that day, probably a party of migrants that stopped briefly to feed on the available caterpillars among the oak foliage and to bathe. All of the above mentioned species were present, but that same day I also observed orange-crowned, black-throated green, and Canada warblers. All quickly passed on by.

That day of my cerulean warbler and associates was immediately following a cold front that had brought clouds and rain from the northwest and had moved into the Gulf of Mexico. That front in the Gulf probably had forced the northbound migrants, flying across the Gulf from the tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, to veer westward onto the Texas Coast to where they then followed the coastline northward. Such an event happens on a regular basis, resulting in masses of Neotropical migrants passing through South Texas rather than flying 550 miles directly across the Gulf to landings along the upper Texas Coast or Louisiana and Mississippi.

Places like High Island, north of Galveston, have a well-earned reputation for attracting birders in spring. When conditions are right, one can find hundreds of songbirds and other species among the oaks, often as many as 80 to more than 100 species. These tired Trans-Gulf migrants first rest a few minutes or longer, and then they begin to feed on the available insects, building up their body fat for the next leg of their journey.

Those of us living in South Texas can truly appreciate the spring bird migration, especially when some of the rarities, such as a cerulean warbler, put in an appearance.

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