Monday, August 25, 2008

Fall Warbler Identification: Part 1

For many birders throughout the eastern United States the most exciting time for birding will soon be arriving or has already arrived. While many people are very excited, there are also many that are worried about the upcoming season due to the identification challenges that will soon be upon them. Every birder can enjoy the fall warbler migration season more by understanding the identification process of these warblers more clearly. I believe that the reason some people are overwhelmed by the warblers is because of the large number of species that are possible. Most of the warblers are extremely straight forward during the spring, with their bright and distinctive plumages. In the fall the warblers’ plumages have faded and become less bright but are still distinctive.

As with all birds the best way to learn the identification process of warblers is to observe them in the field. It also helps if you look over the warblers before you go out into the field. As with all birds it is very difficult to learn how to identify birds by going out in the field once a week and never looking through or studying a field guide. To start learning the warblers you will need to know how to find them in the field. The most effective way to find warblers is to bird around lakes and rivers. When you are birding in these areas listen for chickadees and titmice because the warblers commonly feed in mixed flocks with these birds. By listening you will soon start hearing different call notes that are not coming from the common birds, but instead from the warblers.

The Marina at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis. This is one of the best spots for fall warbler migration in Indiana.

It also helps to know what you should expect to see. You need to learn the regular arrival and departure dates for Warblers, to cut down on the likely possibilities. For example if you are at the very start of fall migration in your area you should not expect to see Palm or Yellow-rumped Warblers. Knowing this can make the identification process become much quicker. Never be too closed-minded about the arrival and departure dates though because any bird is possible at any time, just use the dates as a guideline. You also need to pay attention to the behavior of each warbler. One of the most notable behaviors is the tail fanning of the American Redstart or the tail wagging of the Palm Warbler. If one of these behaviors is observed it is safe to assume that you have correctly identified the bird. Learning the feeding behaviors of warblers will quickly improve your warbler identification, and will especially help in back-lit situations.

When should you expect to see warblers? Watch the weather channel each night to be able to predict whether or not it will be a good day to go find Warblers. During the fall north winds will bring birds in from the north, while in the spring southern winds will help birds migrate north. Without winds there will not be too much bird migration, so if it was slow the day before, it will most likely be slow the next day without overnight winds. The more you learn about the identification and behavior of warblers the more you will be able to enjoy them every day.

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