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    Monday, April 15, 2024

    These are the spring glory days for migrating neotropical warblers here

    Nothing beats the invigoration of an early spring morning afield. Early May is the most exciting time of year for me. It is when brook trout are biting, leaves are appearing, days become warmer, and woods fill with migrating neotropical warblers. Though many warblers appear prior, the second week of May seems to be the time when there are, literally, dozens of these tiny, intricately colored birds, flitting about the branches at specific spots within most woodlots.

    Of the 52 different species of warblers, which travel through North America, the pine warbler is one of the first to appear in New England. Pine warblers are true to their name and inhabit the evergreens, especially the pines. The black and white warbler is another early migrant. Look for this warbler on tree trunks. You might mistake it for a white-breasted nuthatch, as this bird works the trunks by creeping upside down in similar fashion.

    Before April yields to May, most of us have at least heard a warbler or two, but soon the day will arrive when the myriad migrant birds settle down over us on some warm May night. In fact, this is the time of year when thousands upon thousands of migrating birds fill the night sky.

    The flocks are random; they may include American redstart, black and white, northern waterthrush, ovenbird, black-throated green, black-throated blue, and even some bay-breasted warblers.

    Ovenbirds will be among the leaf litter, while black-throated green warblers will be gleaning the leaves in the high canopy and black-throated blue warblers will be hunting insects in low shrubs. The Canada, blackburnian, and chestnut-sided will also be seen in the next few weeks. Sometimes warblers may turn up with songbirds such as tanagers. Because they tend to group with numerous species, warbler watching is among the most exciting birding you can experience all year. It can be quite productive toward making gains on your life list.

    Commonly seen, and the easiest to identify, are the yellow-rump warblers. Others frequently seen in migration include the magnolia, yellow, American redstart, and chestnut-sided. Many simply pass our way, but some do nest in the state, and a few even stay locally. Knowing their habitat preference is key to finding them, but take advantage of the migration occurring now.

    Warblers are not large conspicuous birds of great popularity -- rather, they are five inches long and are often silent during their stopovers. Yet in the next few weeks, birders of any level of experience should be able to enjoy the thrill of the warbler migration. It might be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the section in your field guide devoted to warblers before heading out.

    I recommend birding a woodlot early in the morning. Go where there is some water; it can be a stream or a pond, but water and a shrubby “edge” can make the difference between an OK day of birding and a time to remember. I believe the river valleys are more productive than the hills. The coastal birding sites will, of course, be good, too.

    Locally, Bluff Point in Groton is good. The beauty of warblers is that they can be seen almost anywhere. So be sure to rise early, and be observant for small birds flitting about the branches. You just might stumble upon a pocket area filled with a flock of assorted species.

    Robert Tougias is a Colchester-based birder. His book “Birder on Berry Lane” is now available. You can e-mail him questions at roberts90gtias@yahoo.com

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