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The World Outdoors: Yellow warblers brighten hiking trails

By Paul Nicholson,
London Free Press,
May 31 2017

Although it’s the northbound stream of 25 or 30 warbler species in May that is the birding highlight of the year for many Southwestern Ontario bird watchers, a handful of warblers do stay to brighten our late spring and summer.

The yellow warbler is so common during migration festivals, many birders filter out the sight of them. The “sweet, sweet, shredded wheat” call sung by the male can also become an ear worm.

These warblers – that winter in Central America and the north part of South America – are a delight to see through the summer, however. Both the male and female are a bright yellow, but the male has brown streaking on its chest. Across Southwestern Ontario, they can be found feeding actively in damp scrubby areas where there are short willows and other small trees and shrubs.

These warblers form pairs that stay together for one or sometimes more breeding seasons. The female will build a nest in a bush or small tree. Although female brown-headed cowbirds will lay eggs in their nests, the female yellow warbler is often wise to this.

The American redstart is another of the wood warblers that breeds in Southern Ontario. Its range is similar to the yellow warbler’s. There is sexual dimorphism in redstarts. The adult male has beautiful black and orange patches and a white belly. The female is grey and olive with yellow tail patches and yellow flank patches. All young redstarts resemble the female. The males don’t get their distinctive plumage until their second fall.

While many redstarts are monogamous, there are records of males setting up shop with another female after a first is incubating eggs. These two families would be on different territories. While feeding on insects, the redstart will often fan its tail. This flashing of the feathers is thought to flush their prey.

Common yellowthroats are well-named. They are common and they do have bright yellow throats. The male yellowthroat has a striking look with a Lone Ranger-like black mask.

These warblers overwinter in Florida and Central America then fly north to nest here in wet habitats. The female constructs a nest from grass and leaves in a reedy marsh area. There may even be a roof incorporated in the construction.

Yellowthroats are more or less monogamous. The female may engage in some two-timing. You will likely hear this bird before you see it. The male and female both sing the “witchety, witchety, witchety” call. It is as distinctive for the yellowthroat as the male’s mask.

The blue-winged warbler and the Brewster’s warbler, a blue-winged and golden-winged hybrid, are sometimes seen and heard in Komoka.

Elsewhere in Middlesex County, you could find other warbler species through the summer. Skunk’s Misery near Newbury is a particularly good hot spot. Ian Platt of London and Gavin Platt of Toronto reported cerulean, hooded, blue-winged, and mourning warblers at Skunk’s Misery last weekend.

Nature notes

– The Cornell Lab of Ornithology published a useful series of All About Birds pocket guides in May. It was developed to inspire and support beginning birdwatchers. Each of the 13 folding pocket guides keys in on a particular aspect of birding such as Backyard Birds of Eastern and Central North America, Birding 101, and Right Bird, Right House. Some guides relate to other parts of the continent but many of them are useful to us. They can just slip into your pocket and I like the fact they are weather resistant.

– Ontario Nature recently released an update of its Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas app for both iOS and Android devices. It includes a field guide for all 48 of the province’s herps and it supports citizen science.

– The Long Point Bird Observatory, which operates with Bird Studies Canada near Port Rowan on Lake Erie passed a remarkable milestone on Monday by banding its millionth bird, a female Tennessee warbler. The LPBO, the oldest bird observatory in the western hemisphere, has been leading on bird science since 1960. For more information about the LPBO and the full range of Bird Studies Canada’s programs visit birdscanada.org.