Sunday 28 March 2021

Birding Blast from the Past 10 - North American Warblers in Spring in New Jersey

I've been lucky to travel many times to Cape May, New Jersey, USA, for both Spring and Autumn birding, please click here for a series of trip reports. One of many highlights has been being a team member of Team 1000birds competing in the World Series of Birding, after many attempts the team taking first place in 2018 winning the Urner-Stone Cup. All being well in a post pandemic world I look forward to taking part in future birdraces with my Team 1000birds friends.

Birding New Jersey in early to mid May has given me plenty of opportunity to connect with the many North American Warblers on offer on the Eastern Seaboard. Here's a trip down memory lane of the Warbler species seen to date, and my thoughts on how easy or difficult it is to see the species.

Ovenbird Seiurus aurocapilla
The familiar loud and repetitive "teacher, teacher, teacher" song of the forests, a song clearly identified with Cape May County's Belleplain State Forest. Numerous and can be tricky to see, but with patience one of the many singing birds will walk into view. A night singer as well.

Ovenbird, May 2015

Ovenbird, May 2015

Worm-eating Warbler Helmitheros vermivorum
A "triller" and present in Belleplain State Forest. Elusive but patience usually rewards you with a sighting or two of this thickset Warbler as it moves through the tangled bushes.

Worm-eating Warbler, May 2013

Worm-eating Warbler, May 2013

Northern Waterthrush Parkesia noveboracensis
I found them more difficult to see in Spring than on autumn passage. Several noted over the years in song at Cape May Point and present in Northern New Jersey on World Series day.

Louisiana Waterthrush Parkesia motacilla
Much sought after, another Belleplain State Forest summer speciality whose presence at Sunset Bridge draws in birders every Spring. It's an early returning Summer visitor so at World Series time in early May you need a bit of luck to connect on the day and in the scouting week beforehand. Usually heard in song from deep within the streamside undergrowth, or seen as a quick fly past along the stream after being alerted by its tick type call. Seen and heard during many World Series of Birding runs by Team 1000birds in Northern New Jersey, although in our winning year we got it on the 6th staked out individual, excellent back up scouting.

Louisiana Waterthrush, May 2013

Louisiana Waterthrush, May 2013

Blue-winged Warbler Vermivora cyanoptera
A common but localised summer visitor to tangled field scrub, I've always found them to be elusive, more often heard than seen on the World Series run.

Golden-winged Warbler Vermivora chrysoptera
This stunning species is becoming scarce, difficult to locate in breeding habitat in the north. Seldom connected on World Series, notably a dazzling male in May 2007 with a Blue-winged Warbler song that was seen, others heard on 2 different bird race runs. The one that showed looked fine plumage wise, probably singing "Bee Buzz" missing the last "Buzz" due to being outnumbered in the area by its close Blue-winged relative. In Spring seen a female at Cape May Bird Observatory on the 'fall' morning of 17 May 2018, and one in a Warbler flock during pouring rain at the other end of the state at Garret Mountain before flying back from Newark a couple of days later.

Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia
Fairly easy to see be it running along the branches Nuthatch like or moving between tangled vines, its presence betrayed by a "squeaky wheel" song.

Black-and-white Warbler, May 2013

Black-and-white Warbler, May 2015

Prothonotary Warbler Protonotaria citrea
The gold-headed visitor to wet woodlands found at nest holes in near swamp like conditions where it gives its repeated "sweet, sweet  sweet, sweet" song.

Prothonotary Warbler, May 2017

Swainson's Warbler Limnothlypis swainsonii
A rarity in New Jersey with an overshoot noted for consecutive years in the late 2010s, a singing male that could be very difficult to see. It had a large woodland territory but would have certain song posts to which it could eventually be tracked down to. The Waterthrush-like song became hypnotic and could be heard from outside its woodland home.

Swainson's Warbler, May 2018

Swainson's Warbler, May 2018

Tennessee Warbler Leiothlypis peregrina
I tend to group this one with Nashville Warbler in terms of its behaviour and chances of seeing it. Also, probably because it's a comparison species in terms of the similar warbling song, 3 part for Tennessee and 2 part for Nashville. It may have a Willow Warbler feel to its appearance, but the subtle contrasting plumage tones renders it not dull. Seen and heard on 3 Spring visits.

Tennessee Warbler, May 2014

Nashville Warbler Leiothlypis ruficapilla
Elusive and fast moving describe my experiences of this attractive Warbler. Tricky to connect with and usually encountered when there's an abundance of warbler species on show. 

Common Yellowthroat Geothlypis trichas
Numerous in Spring seen in many habitats especially scrubby and reed fringed areas where it delivers the repeated "witchity" song. Can be quite showy at times, very inquisitive on pishing.

Common Yellowthroat, May 2015

Mourning Warbler Geothlypis philadelphia
A late Spring migrant and tricky to see, saw a male for a few seconds in Cape May State Park in May 2010.

Kentucky Warbler Geothlypis formosa
I found this species to be difficult to find and took many years to get it on my life list. The first is the only one I have seen to date, a singing male on territory in Belleplain State Forest. With thanks to Richard Crossley for help in finding this one, I'm sure it's the singing male shown in one of Richard's excellent books, The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds.

Hooded Warbler Setophaga citrina
A beautiful species characterised with bright lemon underparts and a striking hooded appearance, shy for photographs this speciality of Belleplain State Forest sings a cheery "weet, weet weetio" song. Some do give a confusing alternate song. Often seen on passage at Cape May and we usually have this one on the list in Northern New Jersey soon after sunrise on World Series day.

Hooded Warbler, May 2013

Hooded Warbler, May 2013

American Redstart Setophaga ruticilla
If you're struggling to id a Warbler on song it could well be this species. Reasonably easy to see, females and immatures probably dominate and then you glimpse the showstopper, an adult male. Sometimes the air is filled with the song of American Redstart, indicating an overnight 'fall' of this species in the area 

American Redstart, May 2018

Cape May Warbler Setophaga tigrina
Despite the name, a tricky one to encounter at Cape May in Spring when it is scarce, much more regular in autumn especially at the famous Cape May Point "Magic Elm Trees" or by the Cape May Hawkwatch. I've seen less than a handful in Spring. One quiet mid May afternoon at the Point (2011) on a day struggling to find any passage Warblers whatsoever, an adult male appeared from nowhere singing and showing well in a garden by Lily Lake. In May 2017 a male showed at Cape May Point State Park first thing but had quickly moved on by 9am. Nearby the Cape May Hawkwatch cedars held a pair in May 2018.

Cape May Warbler, May 2018

Cape May Warbler, May 2018

Cerulean Warbler Setophaga cerulea
Along with Golden-winged and Blackburnian Warblers arguably one of the most sought after Warblers at Cape May Point. The stunning 'Sheffield Wednesday' Warbler with its magnificent blue and white stripes, one bird outside Cape May Bird Observatory (Northwood) delighted locals and visitors alike one morning in May 2014. At the other end of New Jersey it can be found as a breeder in High Point State Park and nearby. It is usually noted by our team on World Series day typically in song from way up in the canopy.

Cerulean Warbler, May 2014

Cerulean Warbler, May 2014

Northern Parula Setophaga americana
Always nice to see, a rather showy Warbler going about its business allowing close approach as it wanders through the branches. Distinct rising buzzy song.

Northern Parula, May 2013

Northern Parula, May 2014

Magnolia Warbler Setophaga magnolia
A very striking Warbler, fairly easy to connect with but I found tricky to photograph.

Magnolia Warbler, May 2015

Magnolia Warbler, May 2018

Magnolia Warbler, May 2018

Bay-breasted Warbler Setophaga castanea
Stunning, the males look like they've had paint thrown on their face and then left to dry. Scarce, always sought after but should make the Spring trip list.

Bay-breasted Warbler, May 2018

Bay-breasted Warbler, May 2018

Blackburnian Warbler Setophaga fusca
The best? The rapid zipping song with the high-pitched ending can be heard on passage birds in Cape May County and from Hemlock tree canopy on its breeding bounds in Northern New Jersey. Always draws in many onlookers and seems to be a later migrant compared with other Wood Warblers, but perhaps not as late as Blackpoll Warblers.

Blackburnian Warbler, May 2013

Blackburnian Warbler, May 2013

Yellow Warbler Setophaga petechia
Numerous along field edges. Not a monotone species as the name may suggest, the bright red stripes of the males standout and the yellows of the female have a subtle contrast. Usually located by its "sweet, sweet, ever so sweet" song.

Yellow Warbler, May 2013

Yellow Warbler, May 2013

Chestnut-sided Warbler Setophaga pensylvanica
An attractive Warbler in all plumages, fairly easy to see in New Jersey on Spring migration. Gives a 'Rosefinch' like song.

Chestnut-sided Warbler, May 2014

Chestnut-sided Warbler, May 2018

Blackpoll Warbler Setophaga striata
This large late summer migrant, one of the "zit, zit, zit" singing Warblers. The conifers by the Hawkwatch at Cape May Point State Park a favourite haunt in mid May.

Blackpoll Warbler, May 2015

Blackpoll Warbler, May 2018

Black-throated Blue Warbler Setophaga caerulescens
Regular in Spring and nice to see.

Black-throated Blue Warbler, May 2013

Black-throated Blue Warbler, May 2013

Palm Warbler Setophaga palmarum
Unlike Autumn it is scarce to rare in Spring, one in 2013 seen at Cape May Bird Observatory (Northwood), and another I connected with spent several days at the back of Cape May Point State Park in 2014. It was just a bit too far for us to "twitch" on World Series day.

Palm Warbler, May 2013

Palm Warbler, May 2014

Pine Warbler Setophaga pinus
A bird of the Pine forest, an early returning summer migrant. Song, well it's one of the "trillers" alongside Worm-eating Warbler and Chipping Sparrow. It can show well once you've 'got your eye in'. Hotspots include the triangle at Sunset Bridge within Belleplain State Forest and along Jakes Landing Road. Care in identifying on song alone at Belleplain as the other "trillers" are present as well.

Pine Warbler, May 2014

Yellow-rumped Warbler Setophaga coronata
A beautiful Warbler with a chatty, pleasant song. They move around the trees as a clearly defined flock, and over a visit to Cape May in May the numbers will clearly diminish during the stay as they start to move north.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, May 2013

Yellow-rumped Warbler, May 2014

Yellow-rumped Warbler, May 2017

Yellow-throated Warbler Setophaga dominica
Elusive, best picked up by its quiet warbling song, this striking Warbler is usually found alongside Pine Warblers with the hotspots listed for that species good for this striking Warbler as well. The yellow-lored (dominica) subspecies breeds in southern New Jersey and I manage to catch up with the white-lored subspecies (albilora) on one occasion at Cape May Point State Park in May 2014. I believe the latter breeds in NW New Jersey (from Bill Boyle's The Birds of New Jersey).

Yellow-throated Warbler, May 2013

Yellow-throated Warbler, May 2015

Yellow-throated Warbler, May 2018

Prairie Warbler Setophaga discolor
Reasonably abundant along field edges, a well marked Wood Warbler with its Yellowhammer like song.

Prairie Warbler, May 2014

Black-throated Green Warbler Setophaga virens
A very smart summer visitor to be found on passage at Cape May. As with some American Warblers has typical and alternate songs.

Black-throated Green Warbler, May 2013

Canada Warbler Cardellina canadensis
Tricky to see. Possible at High Point State Park, Northern New Jersey on World Series day, a singing male heard deep in cover on at least one occasion. Encountered at the migration hotspot of Garret Mountain. The one shown below was at Cape May Bird Observatory during a cracking fall of migrants one morning in May 2018, a morning where you didn't know where to look next as scarce and rare birds seemed to be everywhere!

Canada Warbler, May 2018

Wilson's Warbler Cardellina pusilla
A dainty Warbler, not common and when seen on passage you know it is or will be a good Warbler day. Always looks very slender.

Wilson's Warbler, May 2018

Yellow-breasted Chat Icteria virens
Is it a Warbler? For the sake of argument taking the historical view of an oversized 'Wood Warbler'. With its boldly marked yellow breast and its croaking song that would make a Great Reed Warbler jealous, this giant is a joy to see. They can be elusive hiding away in hedgerows and then perching out in the open on reaching full song. Also, the will it or won't it be 'in' for World Series day, and will back up sites deliver if it's not back at Higbees?

Yellow-breasted Chat, May 2015

Yellow-breasted Chat, May 2015