Prothonotary Warbler: A Golden Ray of Light

June 22, 2017  •  1 Comment

The Prothonotary Warbler, often called a "swamp warbler" in the southeast, are usually found in the dim understory of woodland swamps.  They have been described as "a golden ray of light" as they jump around the branches searching for insects.  As you will see in the following images, that is exactly where I photographed this little male. Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale

 

Although the range map below doesn't show it, there are breeding Prothonotary Warblers in the state of Pennsylvania.  They are only one of two warblers that nest in holes in standing dead trees.  The Lucy's Warbler is the other but since they live in far southwestern United States, I'm not going to find any of those in Pennsylvania.

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale ProthonotaryWarblerRangeMapProthonotaryWarblerRangeMap

 

Do you know how the Prothonotary Warbler got its name?  They got their name from the bright yellow robes worn by papal clerks, known as prothonotaries, in the Roman Catholic church. Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale

 

All of the adult Prothonotary Warblers that I photographed have dark, wet looking feathers on their crown where they should have bright yellow feathers like the rest of their head.  The reason is not certain but some people have said it is because of their method of hunting for insects.  They look under leaves and reach in for the insect so water touches their heads, making them wet.  Another idea is that certain plants have a sap textured secretion from their leaves and the sap gets on their head while hunting and stains the feathers. 

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale

 

I watched this Prothonotary Warbler hunting for quite a while and smiled at the positions he got into while looking for insects.

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary WarblerMale

 

The conservation status of the Prothonotary Warbler is better than other warblers but they are still on the decline.  The clearing of swamp forests in the south have affected their breeding range.  Elsewhere, birdhouses have helped them remain fairly common.

Well, that's it for the Prothonotary Warbler photo blog.  If you would like to see more photos that I didn't include in the post, you can check them out in the Prothonotary Warbler gallery of my website.

Thanks for looking,

Dan


Kentucky Warbler: Usually Heard but Not Seen

June 19, 2017  •  1 Comment

On my quest of photographing warblers this spring I did have the opportunity to photograph a few seldom seen, or rare birds.  I decided to single out a few species because of their rarity and/or their beauty.  The first photo blog, published on June 4th, was about the Golden-winged Warbler.  Today's photo blog is about the Kentucky Warbler.

The Kentucky Warbler is a small, brightly colored warbler whose loud song can be heard in the undergrowth of eastern deciduous forests.  They spend most of their time on the ground in moist, leafy woodlands searching for insects.  Despite its bright colors, the dark shadows of the forest keeps them well hidden. Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale

 

I was so fortunate to find a male Kentucky Warbler on a few occasions and photograph them in the middle of their song.  You can see in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's range map below, northern Pennsylvania nears the end of the Kentucky Warbler's breeding range.  Prior to 1940, the Kentucky Warbler's breeding range ended in southern Pennsylvania but the creation of breeding habitats expanded their range.

Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale KentuckyWarblerRangeMapKentuckyWarblerRangeMap

The main diet of the Kentucky Warbler consists of various insects including moths, bugs, ants, grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, aphids, grubs, and spiders, plus a few berries. Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale

 

I was able to get some images of this beauty on the edge of some pretty thick shrubs along a large tract of deciduous forest. Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale

 

We in Pennsylvania get to enjoy the presence of the Kentucky Warbler for another two months.  They begin to leave their breeding ground in August.

Kentucky WarblerKentucky WarblerMale

 

The Kentucky Warbler sings a loud springtime song but he usually sings from a secluded perch.  When you hear him sing, it's hard to believe they are such a shy and elusive bird.

Kentucky WarblerKentucky Warbler

 

Their survival story isn't much different from other beautiful warblers on this planet.  This species is declining and one reason is the clearing of forests.  Loss of habitat is also happening on their wintering grounds.  As forests are broken up into smaller patches, they become vulnerable to cowbird parasitism.  Brown-headed Cowbirds do not raise their own young.  Instead, they lay their eggs in other species' nests allowing them to be raised by the other species.  There are several reasons parasitism hurts the survival of the other species of birds like the Kentucky Warbler.

If you would like to see more photo of Kentucky Warblers, check out my Kentucky Warbler gallery here.

Thanks for looking,

Dan


The Enjoyment of May and June Wildlife

June 15, 2017  •  3 Comments

I was so busy in May and the first half of June photographing birds in the Warbler family.  I'm sad that it's past but I'm also a little relieved because it required a lot of travel to get some new species.  I will share the "fruits of my labor" in upcoming photo blogs but right now, I want to share many of the other encounters with wildlife that I enjoyed along the way.

Not going to be much reading in this one folks.  I hope you enjoy these bonus photos as much as I enjoyed making them.

Black-billed Cuckoo (Centre County, PA) - Typically a treetop dweller, I was happy when this Black-billed Cuckoo came low enough for a decent photo. Black-billed CuckooBlack-billed Cuckoo

 

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Ottawa County, OH)  - I photographed this Black-crowned Night-Heron in mid-day with a high, bright sun.  Definitely not a choice I would make if I had any kind of clout with the wildlife. Ha ha!  Apparently, they don't care what I want!  Anyway, I watched him sit on a log for an hour or so before he decided to take a flight over the water to relieve himself and return.  I don't know about other birds but these ones don't "poop" where they hunt for food.  I was glad he had to go because it gave me an opportunity for some action photos. Black-crowned Night-HeronBlack-crowned Night-Heron

 

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Ottawa County, OH) - In breeding season adults have two long white plumes on their heads. They are evident in the photo below.  Black-crowned night herons don't have adult plumage until they are about three years old. Black-crowned Night-HeronBlack-crowned Night-Heron

 

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Ottawa County, OH) - I have several more photos from this series.  If you are interested, you can view them in my Avian/Heron/Black-crowned Night-Heron gallery. Black-crowned Night-HeronBlack-crowned Night-Heron

 

Bobolink (Lawrence County, PA) - I found several Bobolink mixed with Meadowlark and some sparrows.  The photo below is the female Bobolink.

BobolinkBobolinkFemale

 

Bobolink (Lawrence County, PA) - Here is the male Bobolink in breeding plumage. BobolinkBobolinkMale

 

Common Grackle (Ottawa County, OH) - Known to be a poor but spirited singer, the Common Grackle has to be proud of their iridescent plumage. Common GrackleCommon Grackle

 

Dunlin (Ottawa County, OH) -  First time I ever photographed this little shorebird DunlinDunlin

 

Dunlin (Ottawa County, OH) - Mirror, Mirror! DunlinDunlin

 

Eastern Towhee (Butler County, PA) - A vocal resident of our summer forest.  It's a special photo opportunity when you can find the male and female together in one frame. Eastern TowheeEastern TowheeMale & Female

 

Greater Yellowlegs (Ottawa County, OH) - Taking a break on a mound in the marsh. Greater YellowlegsGreater Yellowlegs

 

Green Heron (Centre County, PA) Green HeronGreen Heron

 

Green Heron chicks (Crawford County, PA) - A friend called me about a Green Heron nest in a nearby yard.  Height and leaves made photography difficult but it was neat to see. Green HeronGreen HeronNestling

 

Henslow's Sparrow (Clarion County, PA) Henslow's SparrowHenslow's Sparrow

 

Hermit Thrush (Forest County, PA) - The Hermit Thrush has an interesting courtship behavior.  For the first two days after arriving to his springtime breeding grounds, he attacks and chases the female.  If she remains beyond the two days, a union is formed. Hermit ThrushHermit Thrush

 

Philadelphia Vireo (Ottawa County, OH) - This guy looks very much like the Warbling Vireo pictured later in this photo blog.  The most noticeable difference is the yellow wash on the chin and chest of the Philadelphia Vireo.

Philadelphia VireoPhiladelphia Vireo

 

Raccoon (Ottawa County, OH) - Magee Marsh has more than birds. RaccoonRaccoon

 

Red Squirrel (Butler County, PA) Red SquirrelRed Squirrel

 

Red-headed Woodpecker (Mahoning County, OH) - Parks and golf courses are a good place to find this species of woodpecker.  I found them on a golf course in an Ohio Metro Park.  This one was looking for worms on the ground. Red-headed WoodpeckerRed-headed Woodpecker

 

Red-headed Woodpecker (Mahoning County, OH) - I think this is one of the most beautiful reds in nature. Red-headed WoodpeckerRed-headed Woodpecker

 

Red-winged Blackbird (Lawrence County, PA) - Even though they are plentiful, it's fun to capture a portrait showing his colors. Red-winged BlackbirdRed-winged BlackbirdMale

 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Forest County, PA) - He just appeared.  I had my back turned and I heard a chink sound that sounded like a sneaker on a gym floor.  I finally looked to see who was doing all the talking and there he was.  He must have heard a photographer was in town! Rose-breasted GrosbeakRose-breasted GrosbeakMale

 

Ruddy Turnstone (Ottawa County, OH) - There are about 350 species of shorebirds in the world, but there are only 2 turnstones, the Ruddy Turnstone and the Black Turnstone, both of which occur in North America.  This one had his face buried in the pebbles of the Lake Erie shore when a wave came in. Ruddy TurnstoneRuddy TurnstoneMale

 

Ruddy Turnstone (Ottawa County, OH) - The turnstone gets its name from its habit of turning over stones when it looks for food. It is also sometimes called the seaweed bird because it often feeds among the kelp at low tide.

Ruddy TurnstoneRuddy TurnstoneMale

 

Scarlet Tanager Male (Indiana County, PA) - A beautiful tanager with a difficult plumage color to photograph.  The light needs to be just right to correctly expose the male Scarlet Tanager. Some of my photographs depict a bright red to an orange at times.  It really doesn't matter.  It's just a pleasure to see a Scarlet Tanager in branches low enough for a portrait. Scarlet TanagerScarlet TanagerMale

 

Scarlet Tanager Female (Indiana County, PA) - Sometimes a guy can get lucky and have the mating pair show themselves.  Too bad they weren't in the same frame like the Eastern Towhee earlier in this photo blog. Scarlet TanagerScarlet TanagerFemale

 

Tree Swallow (Ottawa County, OH) - There were several Tree Swallow nesting trees located at Magee Marsh. Tree SwallowTree Swallow

 

Warbling Vireo (Ottawa County, OH) - Looks like a warbler except for the beak. Warbling VireoWarbling Vireo

 

White-tailed Deer (Jefferson County, PA) - This doe was crossing a gas line cut over the hills.  The fawn was so small I had to wait for it to get into shorter grass to see it. White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerDoe with fawn

 

White-tailed Deer (Jefferson County, PA) - Another view as they turned up the hill. White-tailed DeerWhite-tailed DeerDoe with fawn

 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Female (Forest County, PA) - This spring is the first time I ever photographed a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.  The sapsucker is in the woodpecker family. Yellow-bellied SapsuckerYellow-bellied SapsuckerFemale (White Chin)

 

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Male (Forest County, PA) - The irregular rhythm of sapsucker drumming reminds a person of the beat of Morse Code. Yellow-bellied SapsuckerYellow-bellied SapsuckerMale (Red Chin)

 

Well, that's it for now.  I saw all that wildlife while in search of warblers.  During all those travels, I wonder what was hiding in the bushes that I didn't see.  Hmmm, I think I'll have to go back!

Thanks for looking,

Dan


Golden-winged Warbler: A Golden Opportunity

June 04, 2017  •  2 Comments

The Golden-winged Warbler is a gorgeous species of wood warbler.  Its rarity and threatened existence makes it a great find for birders and wildlife photographers.  I had a wonderful and extremely fortunate opportunity to photograph Golden-winged Warblers on two occasions this spring.  I hope you enjoy these photographs because it is a bird you may never see unless you are in the correct habitat and are specifically looking for it.

The Golden-winged Warbler is a slivery-gray bird with a golden crown and wing accents.  Males have a bold black-and-white face pattern.  Females are similar but lack the black face and bib.

Blue-winged WarblerBlue-winged WarblerMale

 

Once common in the northeast, the Golden-winged has been declining recently in southern parts of its breeding range. As it disappears, its close relative the Blue-winged Warbler has been advancing north. It is not completely understood why the Blue-winged is driving the Golden-winged out of the best habitats.

Hybridization is another element in the sharp decline of Golden-winged Warblers.  The Blue-winged Warbler is a much more aggressive and dominant bird.  These two species are known to hybridize where they share breeding grounds.  Their hybrid offspring are known as a “Brewster’s” Warbler and “Lawrence’s” Warbler.  Sorry, I don’t have photos of a hybrid to share.  However, here is a brief description of the two hybrids as explained on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. “These can be variable, but “Brewster’s” Warbler is mostly gray and white with a yellow forehead, like a Golden-winged Warbler, but has a black line through the eye instead of the stronger face pattern of the Golden-winged. “Lawrence’s” Warbler has yellow overall, like a Blue-winged, but shows the Golden-winged Warbler’s black mask and throat patch.”

Back to the Golden-winged Warbler. 

 

This beautiful species breed in dense, tangled, shrubby habitats such as regenerating clearcuts, wet thickets, and tamarack bogs.  Tamarack is a very cold tolerant evergreen also known as Hackmatack, Eastern Larch, Black Larch, Red Larch, American Larch, or Juniper. Wildfires, flooding from beaver dams, and tornado destruction are a few ways shrubby openings amid a forested landscape are created.  Once their young have fledged, they move into nearby woodlands.

 

In the early 20th century, habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler was common when settlers cleared land for homes and farming.  Many of those areas have grown back into forests.  Wildfires and beaver dams are more controlled these days preventing natural habitat to be formed.

 

With about half of the global Golden-winged Warbler population being in Minnesota, I realize how fortunate I am to have spent some time photographing them.

GoldenWingedWarblerRangeMapGoldenWingedWarblerRangeMap

 

 

At only 5.1 inches long and weighing a mere 0.3 - 0.4 ounces, they make it all the way to open woodlands and shade-coffee plantations of mountainous Central and South America for the winter.

 

You can see in the range map to the left the Golden-winged Warbler is a long-distance migrant. With migration movement peaking in September, they travel south mainly through a corridor of states east of the Mississippi River and west of the Appalachians. Spring migration and their return north begins in April but they don't arrive in Pennsylvania until early May.

 

 

Golden-winged Warblers often hop along branches of brushy and shrubby areas, carefully checking each leaf for prey, even sometimes dangling off the edges of branches like a chickadee.

 

So what are they searching for?  Food items they prefer are caterpillars, spiders, moths and other insects.  Leafroller caterpillars appear to be an important food source.   Golden-winged Warblers probe with their sharp bills into rolled-up leaves to find the hidden caterpillars.  They rarely catch insects while in flight.

 

Males sing a loud, very distinguishable, buzzy song from the tops of shrubs in spring and early summer.  Interestingly, hybrids do not sing their own songs.  Instead they sing either normal Blue-winged Warbler songs, Golden-winged Warbler songs, or both.  One thing I needed to be aware of when I was searching the correct habitat of Golden-winged Warblers was I couldn’t rely on song for a positive identification.  Sometimes, pure-looking parental types sing the "wrong" song.  The Golden-winged in the photo below was singing the correct song for his species.

 

Males are extremely vocal for 3 to 4 weeks at the start of their breeding season.  They will confront other males in their territory, sometimes actually fighting.

 

Only after territories and mates are selected do they become secretive and quiet.

 

Are you interested in their nesting activity?  The female Golden-winged builds the nest, usually on the ground.  The nest is built at the base of a plant with a tall thick stem such as Golden Rod or Blackberry for support.  The base is made up of leaves and long strips of bark from a grapevine or arrowwood.  Nests are 3.5 to 6 inches across and 1 to 2.5 inches deep.  The female is very sensitive.  If disturbed, they are known to abandon their nest even after the first eggs have been laid. They will also try to trick predators.  As a decoy, they will carry food to places other than their nest.

 

The Audubon Society has a climate model that projects a shift of their breeding range completely out of their current breeding range by 2080.  The summer range is expected to more than double thankfully to efforts of creating second-growth habitats.  Since it doesn’t take long for the habitat to become established, there is hope that the Golden-winged Warbler will move with the climate space.  There is more good news amongst all the sad news of their declining population. 

Cornell Lab and their partners in the Golden-winged Warbler Working Group have a conservation plan to stop their decline and continue to grow the population by 50% by the year 2050.

 

These warblers will be around throughout my lifetime but I sure hope, with preservation efforts in place, children of today and all future generations will be able to enjoy these birds too.

Here is another example displaying their habits of hanging upside down from the end of tree limbs.  This time he is singing his song.

 

Research for this photo blog included Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, Birds of Pennsylvania, and Stokes Field Guide to Warblers.  Photography equipment used was a Canon EOS-1DX MK II and a Canon EF 600mm f/4L II USM Lens.  In some photos I may have also used a Canon Extender EF 1.4X III rendering a f/5.6, 840mm focal length.

Thanks for looking,

Dan


A Brief Lake Erie Shore Morning

May 30, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

In the second half of April, the Lake Erie shoreline in Conneaut, Ohio had a special visitor called an American White Pelican.  I wanted to make the 2.5 hour trip several times but timing never worked out for me.  Finally I had a free morning and with a sighting within the previous 24 hours, I was pretty hopeful that I was going to come home with American White Pelican photographs.

It wasn’t meant to be.  While waiting for a pelican sighting, I had several other species of birds to photograph so the day was not lost.

Upon arriving to the shore, I noticed this juvenile Bald Eagle walking along the beach in an area where dead fish wash up on the sand. Bald EagleBald EagleJuvenile

 

I’ve photographed Caspian Tern many times at Conneaut but this day was going to be special.  There was a flock of probably 200 Caspian Tern.  Well, let’s face it, 150 tern and 350 tern look pretty much the same when they are flying around.  Let’s just say there were a lot.  I held the shutter button down when several of them took off at one time. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

If I was looking for a quiet, soothing day at the shore, I was badly mistaken.  The Caspian Tern wanted to vocalize.  Usually, many at once. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

There was a lot more than raspy squawking going on.  These two were preparing to mate right in front of all the other terns. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

You would think the previous photo would make the other tern jealous.  Seems like flying by with a fish in your mouth causes more excitement. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

Because I don’t get to see many species of tern, I still need to look some up to confirm identification.  I almost dismissed this smaller tern that was there in very few numbers.  There were about three Forster’s Tern mixed in with the Caspian Tern.  While the northeastern United States is in the migration path of the Caspian Tern, range maps show the Forster’s Tern is not. Forster's TernForster's Tern

 

I mentioned earlier that a fish causes quite a ruckus when it’s being paraded around the flock in the mouth of a Caspian Tern. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

It was fun to watch how the other tern reacted when the “owner of the fish” came close by.  Some vocalized while others tried to steal the food. Caspian TernCaspian Tern

Caspian TernCaspian Tern

Caspian TernCaspian Tern

 

Once I saw the Forster’s Tern in flight, I knew I had something special.  I’ll be honest, I still didn’t know what it was.  I wish I would have spent more time photographing this rare find but the next few images are the last ones I got before it flew to another part of the beach and I ran out of time.

Now I know the forked tail is the major identifying mark of a Forster's Tern. Forster's TernForster's Tern

Forster's TernForster's Tern

Forster's TernForster's Tern

 

One of my last sights before leaving the beach that morning was an immature Ring-billed Gull catching a fish.  Well, that’s not really a big deal.  It was interesting because the fish was too big for the gull to lift off.  Using its wings, it swam about 30 yards to the shoreline in front of me stopping and covering its prey every time another bird flew past. Ring-billed GullRing-billed GullImmature

 

Double-crested Cormorants are a skittish bird.  I spotted this lone cormorant on a large pond near the harbor so I stopped for a few photos. Double-crested CormorantDouble-crested Cormorant

Double-crested CormorantDouble-crested Cormorant

 

That ended my morning watching for the American White Pelican.  Maybe next time I’ll react a little quicker when another one migrates off-track and visits a near-by shore.

Thanks for looking,

Dan