As most of you know I am very partial to the botanical world and most of my posts tend to focus on that aspect of my lifestyle and passion. Don't let that fool you though, I do my best to be a well-rounded naturalist who prides himself on being knowledgeable on other topics than just plants and their ilk. I try to sprinkle in some critters here and landscape shots there but I feel like I'm lacking a bit in the biodiversity department. One of my preferred areas of the natural world other than the vascular plants are birds, the rulers of the air. Coming in all shapes, sizes, colors, habitats and environments they really are the wildflowers of the sky. If it's the bold and beautiful you seek look no further than the Warblers. They truly are the creme de la creme of the birding world.
Today after class I decided to comb the forest floors for the signs of the season’s first Morel (Morchella spp.) mushrooms. With a cool and wet Spring, these warmer temperatures should really get these guys to start popping in good numbers anytime now. After a fruitless first few minutes of searching my attention was quickly diverted from the dead leaves on the ground to the high branches of the trees above. A particular bird was signing away, giving the woods his own personal audition for Canopy Idol. Only his judges are a lot more picky and the winner doesn't get a record deal from Oak & Hickory Records but rather the chance to perpetuate his species and superior genetics. Serenading high above was the "squeaky wheel gets the grease" Black-and-White Warbler (Mniotilta varia). Black-and-White warblers tend to stay high in the canopy of its mature deciduous and mixed forest home, hopping and creeping up and down the tree trunks and branches searching out an insect meal. I own a 300mm telephoto lens and it gives me a decent advantage in the avian realm of photography but I need this guy to come down to my level to ever have a hope of getting a halfway decent photograph.
*Click the photographs to see them in a larger, more detailed resolution*
|Black and White Warbler|
|Black and White Warbler|
My weapon of choice? My trusty iBird app on my iPhone. A slip of the hand into my pocket produces the best field guide for birding on the planet in my opinion. Having just about every bird found in North America from the Albatross to the Yellowthroat; this app has pictures, detailed descriptions, ranges, facts and songs/calls at your fingertips. Within a few seconds the speakers of my iPhone are belting the melody of the Black-and-White Warbler. Almost instantly I see a dark, small shape flutter down from the bright blue sky and land on a tree a lot closer to me and my trusty Canon.
|Black and White Warbler|
Black-and-White warblers are quite territorial during the mating season (as are just about all birds), so hearing a rival male close to his singing perch doesn't exactly float their boat. Using the iPhone to imitate a would be rival works wonders in getting these otherwise distant critters within camera shot. I still enjoy wildflower photography considerably more; they tend to stay in the same spot with amazing predictability and only move when the wind decides to produce problems. These guys can't seem to sit still for more than a few seconds, causing some stress and quick reaction times with the lens to capture them before they're off into the air again.
Walking a bit further down the old logging road I came to the edge of the forest and looked out across a wide, open stream valley dotted with a number of beaver ponds. As I admired a few Painted Turtles basking on a log in the warm afternoon sun the familiar tune of Beeee-buzzzzzzzz entered my ear. Another gaudy member of the Warbler family was trying to find a mate and found me instead.
Swooping in for a closer look at the strange, rather upright and enormous critter reverberating a rather convincing call from a shiny, black object was the Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora pinus). Preferring early to midsuccession habitats such as old fields and forest clearings, this guy was right at home in the open, shrubby field of the large forest opening. It breeds extensively with the Golden-winged Warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) where their ranges overlap, including Ohio.
There are two distinct hybrids produced between these fellow Vermivora species: Brewster's Warbler appears as a Blue-winged Warbler with a white chest and light-blue back and is the genetically dominant hybrid. The more rare and recessive Lawrence's Warbler looks like a Blue-winged Warbler except with a black mask across the eyes and face (similar to that of the Common Yellowthroat) as well as a black neck patch. The hybrids sing either one of the original Blue-winged or Golden-winged Warbler's songs (sometimes both) but neither species seems to favor one parents song over the other.
Hopefully more days like this happen to me as Spring goes by because sometimes it's nice to take the camera off the tripod and switch from macro to telephoto for some intimate closeups with our wonderful avian friends. Stay tuned for new posts in the next few days recounting my time botanizing north central Kentucky and southeastern Indiana this past weekend and all the Spring eye candy that will come with it!