New Bird on Block
I'm always exhorting people to listen to what natural sounds that are around them, then to search until they find the noise-makers so they can figure out what they are. I don't mind being asked what birds are, especially if they are easy ones, but why not do the sleuthing yourself if possible? It is very satisfying to solve a puzzle on your own, and you will remember the bird better the next time.
Of course it is best to always have your binoculars around your neck (at least get them out of their case and put them where you can grab them quickly!), but you can tell a lot about a bird from where they are, how they are moving and what type of song they sing. Are they in conifers, hardwoods, shrubs or on the ground; how are they moving if in a tree (different species creep up, or down, or across when gleaning insects); do they move fast, or slow, fly a lot, flick their tails or wings? If you have the Golden Field Guide you can time the songs as to seconds in length and number of songs per minute, and these can be very useful facts in identifying warblers.
So, I thought I knew the birds we have around here, but about a week ago I was shocked to see a yellow-colored warbler feeding on the suet. I had never heard of a warbler eating suet, let alone had one doing it a few inches from my nose and singing a loud, clear trill too. Luckily, a friend who knows this bird, its song and that it migrates north very early in the season was here at the time.
This was a bird I had looked for in vain for years in tall pines, to no avail. Finally, a couple of years ago I was with a hotshot birder in a pine grove and he recognized the song. Then the bird came down low and was foraging nearby so I could actually see it. This was the same place - at the county park near Cronin's golf course in Warrensburg, I had been told there was one singing years ago, but I had thought it was a junco. (You were right, Bob!) By the way, there can be scores of pink ladyslippers there in the first week of June.
If I had read my bird books more carefully, the suet eating would not have been surprising. This bird and the yellow-rumped (myrtle) warbler - another very early migrant, are both known to come to suet feeders. This habit may be a life-saver for them if there are lots of cold spells after they arrive. The females and young pine warblers are pretty impossible to identify by sight without having one in your hand and measuring. The males, however, are bright yellow from the bill on down the breast, have two white wing stripes, and are large for a warbler, over five inches. The tail has long white areas underneath. The song we heard was the more common slow, musical trill, rather like the chipping sparrow, four to seven per minute. They also do a very fast trill, I read. They continue singing into the fall, so how on earth did I miss it all these years? It is true, however, that the pine warbler is more common in the Adirondacks than it was years ago, according to the latest NYS Breeding Bird Atlas.
The pine warbler moves rather "sluggishly", it says there, as it moves along branches probing for insects. This sluggishness is relative as most warblers are pretty frenetic. I have seen it move like this, mostly in the tall pines nearby. As it has been here for over a week, I am hoping it will find a mate and they will build their nest far out on a pine branch in a cluster of needles and 25 to 100 feet up. What a treat to get to know a new species in my own front yard.
I will be leading a bird walk in the next week or so, after most of the warblers are back in the cedar swamp across the road and in the upland woods. Let me know if you want to be told when it is going to happen. It will be around 8 a.m. and we will walk along River Road near my home. If you are a little late, you could drive along until you see us and park along the road. The exact day will depend on the weather forecast, when the birds get here and the ringleaders can come. We will look at wild flowers too. If you are really serious, you will need a waist pack to put your bird book and notebook in, leaving your hands free for binoculars.
By the way, you can tell a really great birder by how grimy their binoculars are!