Sunday, April 30, 2006

My First Warbler

It should have, by all accounts, been a pine warbler or a yellow-rumped (expected return dates April 29 and April 23 respectively--and there have been numerous Ontario reports of both already this season), but this morning I heard my first warbler of the season, a black and white warbler. It was singing in the trees across the street--not suitable nesting habitat for this bird, so maybe just passing through, or maybe he'll find a woodsier spot nearby. (USGS has a pretty good example of a singing black and white here.)

Wildspaces gives May 4 as the return date for this warbler in southern Ontario, so this one is not really terribly early. And it's certainly welcome. I have a special fondness for this bird because it was the first warbler I was able to confirm as a breeder in my Breeding Atlas square. I was walking in the cedar bush in the spring of my first atlassing year when I was startled by a terrible hissing and weaving little black and white bird on the ground coming at me: code DD (defensive display). (Here's a link to the data from 2001, the first year--all of it is mine, I think, except for the confirmed loggerhead shrike. That was reported by a loggerhead shrike recovery guy who happened to be working in my square that year.)

I've been charged by warblers since--mostly golden-winged and Brewster's flying at my head (watch out for these ones--somehow they know when you're precariously balanced on a rock). But I have never again seen as fearsome a display as the one put on by the black and white warbler that day.

Largely thanks to participating in the Breeding Atlas project I've learned an awful lot about birds since 2001. Working on the Atlas focussed my efforts to learn the birds in my area, their habits and songs, in order to collect the breeding evidence specified in the protocol. It gave me structure. The only downside is that it created in me a tendency to ignore birds that were already confirmed breeders. So when I came across a black-and-white warbler in the years following I just briefly acknowledged it and then looked past for birds I "needed." Last year was a little different, I spent more time looking to up the evidence codes for birds I already had--to raise birds from possible or probable to confirmed breeders. As a result I learned quite a bit more about the habits of a number of birds--the common yellowthroat comes to mind. And this year, Atlassing done, I'm free to put what I've learned to work to learn more about the birds that I am fond of--with a little luck I'll get a chance finally to really study the fiesty little black-and-white warbler.

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