Fairest of them all…

Participating in Warbler Weekend in Frontenac,MN, on the Mississippi River this past weekend was quite an experience.  The total bird list seen by all 100+ observers at this gathering ran to 139 species; I think my husband and I saw about 70 of those.  Some were old friends (e.g., Yellow-rumped and Yellow Warblers), and some were brand new to us, like the Cape May Warbler.  It’s hard to pick a “most beautiful” among such colorful creatures, but the Cape May was my choice for this weekend.

Cape May Warblers were named for the type specimen collected in Cape May, New Jersey, through which they migrate.

Cape May Warblers were named for the type specimen collected in Cape May, New Jersey, one of the areas through which they migrate.  Their northward migration from the Caribbean each spring takes them through the eastern half of the U.S. to the spruce forests of central and eastern Canada.

The “best bird” was also the first bird I saw this weekend, highlighted in the golden light of our early morning (6:30 a.m.) departure on bird walks all over the wooded areas of Frontenac.  This particular bird was so busy probing into the flowers of this tree that it completely ignored the exclamations and chatter of the dozens of people standing 20 feet away.

It's doubtful there were insects buried in those flower heads, and more likely that there was some nectar there the birds were after.

It’s doubtful there were insects buried in those flower heads, and more likely that there was some nectar there the birds were after.

Cape May Warblers are spruce budworm specialists, but they do have an unusually curled and semi-tubular tongue that allows them to probe into the depths of flowers to lap up nectar, which they use as an alternative food source to their highly insectivorous diet.

These warblers are also unusual in having a larger than expected number of nestlings for a tiny warbler. Their clutch size might vary markedly depending on the density of spruce budworm available in a particular season, ranging from a low of 4 to a high of 9 nestlings per brood. This density dependent strategy allows the warbler population to expand rapidly and serves as an effective control of budworm outbreaks in the coniferous forests.

With brown cheeks, black cap, and a yellow breast faintly streaked with black, the Cape May Warbler will be an easy one to remember.

With brown cheeks, black cap, and a yellow breast faintly streaked with black, the Cape May Warbler will be an easy one to remember.

6 thoughts on “Fairest of them all…

    • I think the birds might kind of desperate for any kind of nutrition right now and are willing to eat anything they can find. All kinds of birds have been scarfing up the suet as well as the bird seed, and these are birds that usually eat insects at this time of year (but it’s too cold for any insects right now).

  1. The gorgeous light really enhanced an already beautiful subject. I especially liked the second shot when you caught the bird in action, though all of the shots are stunning.

    • You wouldn’t believe how long this one bird worked that tree over, with all of us (100+ people) standing there gawking at it. A truly amazing experience.

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