Black-throated Blue Warblers winter in the Caribbean and are not often seen in migration…especially males. And their nesting/singing sites are high in deciduous trees so an eye-level view is a real treat.
Duluth’s Park Point can be a major migrant trap during spring migration, BUT only if the right weather conditions come together. If we have beautiful spring weather during migration, the birds just wing their way north, bypassing Park Point. Sure, many birds stop along the way, but not in great numbers. This year we had the perfect storm of conditions as six days of fog, rain, wind and storms between May 18th and the 23rd trapped birds on the Point. Most warblers migrate at night, so when conditions south of us are good, they make major movements, but then they hit fog near Duluth and don’t dare journey out over Lake Superior. They plop down at the first available land, which is the 7-mile sand spit known as Park Point (and its twin, the 3-mile long Wisconsin Point). Fortunately for the birds (and unfortunately for the birders!) this phenomenon does not occur every year.
When we arrived at the Beach House parking lot on the Point on Sunday the 19th, birds, mainly warblers and Swainson’s Thrushes, were everywhere! You didn’t know where to look next. Majority were American Redstarts but my friend Ben Yokel had already seen 22 warbler species by the time we got there at 9:30am! Eventually 25 of the regular 26 species of warblers would be seen by birders over the next 4 days (only Pine Warbler was not recorded). Karl Bardon did some counts on the 21st (the day that the majority of warblers were feeding on the Lake Superior beach…hopping around on the sand as if they were tiny shorebirds!) and came up with some amazing numbers, including a state-high count of 452 Palm Warblers!
I ended up photographing TWENTY species of warblers during this mega-fallout. The highlight for me was the Black-throated Blue Warbler male, who put on quite a show, feeding for hours in a few pines near the soccer fields.
Nashville Warbler in Forsythia. I planted myself next to this blooming Forsythia to see who might come by, and in addition to this Nashville, I photographed a Least Flycatcher, Phoebe and a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird in this same bush in a 15-minute span.
Black and White Warblers are appropriately named. This is a male. The female lacks the striped undersides. Unlike other warblers, they often forage on the trunks of trees like nuthatches and creepers. They nest over much of the Eastern U.S..
Magnolia Warbler male. One of the most striking of our spring warblers. “Mags” nest across Canada and the North Woods of NE N. America in dense cover of mixed coniferous/deciduous forests, especially attracted to young pines.
Cape May Warbler male. A real boreal species, preferring tall spruces in the far north of MN, WI, MI, Maine and much of boreal Canada. I often see them foraging in blooming willows like this one during migration.
Golden-winged Warbler female. I missed the male, who is even more striking. Found nesting in regenerating aspen stands, alder stands, but not very common. In the northeastern U.S. their existence is threatened due to interbreeding with the Blue-winged Warbler which is moving north into Golden-winged territory due to global warming.
FIVE species of warblers in one shot! Not a great shot but can you pick out the American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Canada Warbler, Palm Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler. On the 21st almost all the warblers were foraging on the sand on the Lake Superior side of Park Point.
Palm Warbler. One of the MANY terribly-named warbler species in North America. It’s breeding habitat is as far from palm trees as possible, nesting in the Black Spruce bogs of Canada and the extreme northern U.S. from northern Minnesota to northern Maine. The name came from early observations on their tropical wintering grounds.
Wilson’s Warblers nest mainly in Canada and Alaska but a few do breed in far Northeastern Minnesota. Named for Alexander Wilson (1766-1813), considered the greatest American ornithologist prior to Audubon. Other birds named for him include the Wilson’s Phalarope, Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and Wilson’s Plover.
Blackpoll Warblers nest just north of Minnesota so we only see them in migration. Note their orangey legs. Blackpolls make heroic fall migrations, flying NON-STOP over several thousand miles of open ocean from New England/Eastern Canada to Venezuela!
Chestnut-sided Warbler. In most years, the bulk of the warbler species migrate through the Duluth area AFTER the leaves have come out on the aspens. This year, the warblers are late but the leaf-out, green-up is even later. Good for birders!
American Redstart foraging in the jetsam and flotsam on the beach. Redstarts are warblers, and often the most common warbler seen during migration (along with earlier migrating Yellow-rumpeds and Palms)
Blackburnian Warbler foraging in the pines on a rainy day. They nest high in spruces in the boreal forests of eastern Canada, New England, Adirondacks and the North Woods of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
Ovenbird eating an earthworm. This is a shot I needed 6 months ago for the 2nd Edition of our Earthworms of the Great Lakes book. Oh well. They are ground foragers that love worms. You’ve probably heard them singing in mature deciduous forests, “TEACHER, TEACHER, TEACHER.” Ovenbirds get their common name from the resemblance of their domed ground nests to the clay/earthen bake ovens of yesteryear.
Foggy, gray sky days are among the most difficult conditions for bird photographers. But when you have THOUSANDS of warblers “dripping from the trees” in front of you, there is no excuse for NOT shooting. The key is FLASH! I used both regular synch-speed flash which gives you a 1/250 of a second shutter speed, and sometimes tried High-speed synch flash, which allowed me to shoot even to 1/1000 of a second and still be able to illuminate my subject. BUT, you need to be quite close to your warbler if using high-speed synch at these fast shutter speeds due to the fact that the flash output is much less than at normal synch speeds. Also, the flash takes longer to recycle so you only get one flash image before the camera switches to non-flash mode. An external battery pack would have solved this to some degree. Attaching a Better Beamer to my flash allowed the beam of the flash to reach MUCH FURTHER. The unit uses a plastic fresnel lens to magnify the flash output.
[All photos taken with Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 handheld. Flash for most with Canon 520 and Better Beamer flash extender]