Heart of Migration

by Carl Strang

We now are in the tail end of the spring migration season for birds. This was a very good spring for birds at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

Several blackburnian warblers stop at Mayslake every spring.

Several blackburnian warblers stop at Mayslake every spring.

Until I got into the study of singing insects, I thought of the rising high note at the end of the blackburnian’s song as my annual hearing test. I still can hear that note fine, but some of the insect songs get fainter each year. Others I can’t hear at all.

We also consistently see and hear rose-breasted grosbeaks at Mayslake in spring, but so far none have nested there.

We also consistently see and hear rose-breasted grosbeaks at Mayslake in spring, but so far none have nested there.

Blue-headed vireos trickle through in spring, but will nest farther north.

Blue-headed vireos trickle through in spring, but will nest farther north.

At least 3 pairs of indigo buntings will stay to nest at Mayslake.

At least 3 pairs of indigo buntings will stay to nest at Mayslake.

This clay-colored sparrow stopped by on a cloudy day. This is only the fourth or fifth member of its species I have observed at Mayslake. They nest in the county, but not there.

This clay-colored sparrow stopped by on a cloudy day. This is only the fourth or fifth member of its species I have observed at Mayslake. They nest in the county, but not there.

Though the fanned tail is the main part of the American redstart visible in this photo, that bit is worth sharing. This bird’s specialty is flashing its wings and tail to flush insect prey into flight, so that it acrobatically can chase them down.

Though the fanned tail is the main part of the American redstart visible in this photo, that bit is worth sharing. This bird’s specialty is flashing its wings and tail to flush insect prey into flight, so that it acrobatically can chase them down.

The bay-breasted warbler tends to peak in the latter part of the migration season. Its song is like a weakened version of the black-and-white warbler’s “wee-see-wee-see-wee-see.”

The bay-breasted warbler tends to peak in the latter part of the migration season. Its song is like a weakened version of the black-and-white warbler’s “wee-see-wee-see-wee-see.”

This will be my last spring migration at Mayslake, but I anticipate equal or greater diversity at St. James Farm next year.

 

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Tennessee Warbler Dossier

by Carl Strang

The Tennessee warbler is one of our more abundant migrants, conspicuous more by sound than by sight in spring as it is well camouflaged and moves slowly, often high in the trees. It often works closer to the ground and more frenetically in the fall.

Warbler, Tennessee

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Seen as migrant in many locations in the eastern U.S. Judging by songs, one of the most abundant warbler migrants. Not an easy bird to see; moves slowly and infrequently, and colors cryptic among tree leaves. Song loud and distinctive, and for a week or so every spring the trees of woods and residential areas ring with their songs. “Sebit, sebit, sebit, sebit, seteeteeteeteetee…” Initial part just like Nashville warbler’s, but last part very loud, rapid and energetic with no slurring of notes.

10MY87. First of season noted.

13MY87. At Willowbrook, one bird thoroughly working one small area, with much turning of its head, short reaches to probe nearby leaves, short hops between branches, relatively slow-moving for a warbler. Also does a lot of slow smooth stepping along a twig. Foraging in box elder, black willow.

13SE87. West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve. Several Tennessee warblers together in a mixed flock with a magnolia warbler, a red-eyed vireo, a female rose-breasted grosbeak, and several catbirds and robins. The warblers remained within 10 feet of the ground, active and acrobatic, probing, changing perches frequently (2-10 seconds), very chickadee-like and unlike last spring. 11MY88. First Tennessee warbler song of the year. Gone by May 20.

18MY90. Lots of Tennessee warblers at Willowbrook. Cold spring. The only warblers heard on the 24th.

4MY99. First migrant noted at Willowbrook. Last noted there on 25MY.

12MY99. Slow and deliberate, on 1 perch a long time as they look around.

31AU99. First migrant noted at Willowbrook. First-year Tennessee warbler very yellow, with yellow eye line, but white under tail. In contrast to spring birds, very frequent perch changes, actively pivoting and reaching. Last migrant at Willowbrook noted 17SE.

7MY00. Several Tennessees in a mixed flock at West DuPage Woods, high in canopy. One was moving steadily when I first saw it, foraging and singing, then was still for over a minute on a perch, apparently doing no foraging, but alternating singing with bouts of preening.

24SE00. Tennessees have been abundant, lately. Today, a couple in hedgelike borders of the Prairie Path at West Chicago Prairie just east of Industrial Drive.

8OC00. A couple Tennessee’s at West Chicago Prairie.

12OC02. A few at Fermilab in old field areas.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak Species Dossier

by Carl Strang

As usual, the dossier begins with the paragraph that established the file in the mid-1980’s. In this case I didn’t have much to say because my experience with the species was limited. Since then, dated notes have appended observations that I felt added to my understanding of the species.

Grosbeak, Rose-breasted

This species was relatively rare around my home town of Culver, Indiana. My first were a pair in my neighborhood in the town. The male sang from high in trees or TV aerials. His song began with a phrase much like the theme of the “Guestward Ho” TV series which was current then. That mnemonic has helped me recognize it elsewhere in Indiana as well as Pennsylvania and Illinois. They also have a loud “pick” call distinctive in quality from their close relative the cardinal. Foraging movements are slow, taking their time while visually searching for insects at mid to high elevations in trees. They are uncommon during the breeding season (though abundant in migration) in DuPage County, with occasional single pairs here and there in savannah-like forests. They are especially common for a couple of weeks during migration in May.

Adult male rose-breasted grosbeak

Adult male rose-breasted grosbeak

5MY87. First song of the year heard at Willowbrook Forest Preserve.

25JL87. Hartz Lake, Indiana: An adult male fed 10-15 feet up in saplings. Deliberate: about 10 seconds per perch, looking apparently over a radius of several feet, moving 2-5 feet between perches.

A male reaches for a food item. They can look very parrot-like in this maneuver.

A male reaches for a food item. They can look very parrot-like in this maneuver.

13SE87. A female was in a mixed flock with a red-eyed vireo, a Tennessee warbler, and several catbirds and robins.

7MY88. First song of the year, Culver, Indiana.

11MY88. A female was in Willowbrook Forest Preserve.

8MY89. I saw grosbeaks today and on May 6th at Willowbrook.

Singing posture

Singing posture

4MY99. First migrant noted at Willowbrook. Last observed there 14MY.

26AU99. First migrant noted at Willowbrook. Last one noted 29SE.

4SE99. A grosbeak in female plumage at Willowbrook produced “pick!” notes and bits of low-volume warbling song.

11JE00. Rose-breasted grosbeaks were in a diverse forest near Langlade, Wisconsin, associated with the Wolf River riparian edge and with savanna-like areas where trees were more scattered. Deciduous trees were abundant in those areas. Other birds in those habitats were least flycatcher, Baltimore oriole and black-throated blue warbler.

23-4SE00. Grosbeaks were numerous along the Prairie Path just east of Industrial Drive and bordering the West Chicago Prairie, in the hedge-like edges.

21MY08. Fullersburg Woods. A rose-breasted grosbeak nest was on Willow Island, midway along the east side. It was 10 feet up in the top of a buckthorn, 15 feet in from the trail, female incubating. The nest structure resembles that of the cardinal but thinner so you can see through it in places.

Kirtland’s Warbler Tour

by Carl Strang

Last Thursday and Friday I drove into the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. I had two goals, the first of which I’ll detail tomorrow. My secondary goal was to take the Kirtland’s warbler tour. This is a seasonal education opportunity offered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Michigan Audubon (nearly done for this year). The tours begin with a video introduction at the Ramada in Grayling, and then the guide leads participants in a car caravan to the tour site. We drove to an area where the current crop of jack pines was mainly 3-5 feet tall.

The pines are on a harvest rotation, with large areas clear-cut and replanted, so that there always are large areas covered with the small pines the warblers favor.

Kirtland’s warbler is a federally endangered species, but the population trend is upward and the range is expanding thanks to the intense management efforts. Now some are breeding in Wisconsin and Ontario as well as both peninsulas of Michigan. The rarity of the species draws birders to the area, and about 15 of us were on the Friday morning tour.

Allison, our guide, was knowledgeable, and there were plenty of competent birders in the group to assist with the spotting.

The area appears to be structurally and botanically fairly simple. The pines were dominant in the area, with scattered oaks and cherries the other large woody plants.

Jack pine has short needles and small, curved cones.

Between the pines were a few shrubs, mainly huckleberries or blueberries, as well as sweetfern, one of my favorites.

The wonderful odor of sweetfern leaves I associate with wild places. Sadly it does not occur in DuPage County, as it is a sandy soil species.

Among the herbaceous plants were scattered hairy puccoons.

This is another sandy soil plant.

The puccoons frequently threw off some of the more anxious birders whose search image was tuned to the color yellow. Kirtland’s warbler males were singing loudly at all times, but for a while they stayed out of sight. In the meantime we enjoyed a surprising diversity of birds for such a simple ecosystem: four sparrows (field, vesper, clay-colored, Lincoln’s), 3 warblers (Kirtland’s, Nashville, palm), nighthawk, upland sandpiper, brown thrasher, towhee, Brewer’s blackbird, and rose-breasted grosbeak were notable ones. Eventually a male Kirtland’s warbler perched and sang on an exposed branch.

This is an expanded view of the dot on my photo that represented the warbler. We had good spotting scope views.

The tour was highly satisfying. However, it did not allow me to further my primary goal, which was to find Roesel’s katydids in the Lower Peninsula. More on that tomorrow.

May Bird Arrival Phenology

by Carl Strang

May is the last month in which I track migrant bird arrival dates at Mayslake Forest Preserve, as the spring migration is practically concluded. As has been the case this spring, median bird arrival dates have not been nearly as different from previous years as those for first flowers or insect appearances. The 22 species I could compare between 2012 and 2011 were a median 4.5 days later this year, ranging 9 days earlier to 38 days later. The median difference from 2010 was exactly 0, or no difference, with a range of 8 days earlier to 19 days later for 20 species. Finally, 21 species arrived a median 5 days later than in 2009, ranging 10 days earlier to 26 days later.

The rose-breasted grosbeak was fairly typical, the first arriving at Mayslake on May 4 this year, May 2 last year, May 4 in 2010 and April 27 in 2009.

As I mentioned when summarizing data on bird preferences for buckthorn vs. oak woodlands, this year was characterized by a number of migrant species bypassing Mayslake altogether, so there were many for which comparisons could not be made.

Happy Familiar Things

by Carl Strang

While I have my creative side, and there’s a part of me that enjoys novelty, I also take comfort in familiar patterns. As the seasons turn, I take delight in recurring sounds and sights associated with each point in the year. Early in spring I enjoy looking for the relatively large, common bee fly Bombylius major.

I like it because of the contrast between the round fuzzy body and the long pointy beak. Mayapple leaves rise from the ground in clustered clonal colonies. Shortly after their folded umbrella leaves open, they bloom.

Spring migration brings the kaleidoscope of colors and cacophony of songs from the many birds. One of my favorites is the rose-breasted grosbeak. Here a male takes aim at an insect on a leaf.

One of the grand displays is bud break in shagbark hickories.

These spring events are all the more delightful after the long 3 seasons of winter.

Mayslake Migrants Late April

by Carl Strang

The migrant songbirds, and other birds that wintered in the tropics, really begin to flow into northeastern Illinois in the last week of April, and will peak in May. April 24 brought Mayslake’s first chimney swifts, brown thrasher, yellow warblers, and pine warblers including this one.

pine-warbler-b

By the 27th the preserve was hosting newly arrived solitary and spotted sandpipers, green herons, northern waterthrushes, a black-throated green warbler, a blue-winged warbler, a rose-breasted grosbeak, and this Baltimore oriole,

baltimore-oriole-b

as well as a northern parula.

parula-1b

The parula was singing its alternate song, for the most part, the rhythm of which reminds me of the William Tell overture and therefore, inevitably for a member of my generation, the Lone Ranger.

New arrivals on April 28 were warbling vireo, white-crowned and vesper sparrows. The 29th brought house wren, ovenbird, catbird, Tennessee warbler, common yellowthroat, and this red-headed woodpecker.

red-headed-2b

I am hoping that Mayslake’s savanna will be of interest to this relatively rare woodpecker as a nesting area. The last day of April brought a single new species but a good one, a golden-winged warbler.

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