Friday, June 20, 2014

A Warbler of Unrivaled Facemelt...Imvireoation...An Unabominable Oriole

Blackburnian Warbler resides in a league of it's own. It's particular brand of facemelt is unrivaled by any other bird on the continent, and that includes all the fancy tropical stuff. It borrows the colors of the classic oriole palate (orange, black, white) and mixes them with brilliance. It is a bird of Great Success.

Hi birders. Welcome to summer. Migration in the hemisphere has ground to a standstill, and birds have gotten down to the business of grinding something else...cloacas. How does that grab you?

I haven't seen any migrants oscar mike for quite some time now, and that's ok. South Texas was very rewarding this year. I don't even require a fallout experience to say that. Hell, I didn't even realize how consistently good South Padre Island could be until I got out there for the first time. Anyways, I am grateful for getting the chance to flog the migrant-laden shrubbery so much, and so I offer you another glut of migrants. 

Sadly, I only saw a handful of Blackburnian Warblers this spring, which may not be enough to hold me over for very long. It's an addicting bird.

In contrast, Blue-winged Warblers were much easier to come by. They are fidgety little bastards though...the ratio of Blue-winged Warblers seen to Blue-winged Warblers crushed is heavily skewed toward photographic failure. This bird was a bottlebrush junkie though, and it's nectar-lust quickly overrode any misgivings about having to lurk too closely to a human being. 

I was left rather chuffed in the aftermath of this observation.

Chestnut-sided Warbler anyone? This bird has furnished many cherished memories for me over the years, from Humboldt County's Patrick's Point to the talons of a Pearl Kite on a Costa Rican coast; from the bucolic Berkshires to the migrant traps of South Padre Island. It is the Warbler of Nostalgia.

Only the most anesthetized birder, bloated with hubris, can ignore such a bird...even one in sub-crippling plumage such as this one. 

The very first time I came out to South Padre Island, a blooming bottlebrush was completely surrounded by a phalanx of photogs, who were standing guard around the tree and generally being in everyone's way. The mood of a major twitch was in the air. I thought that there absolutely had to be something facemelty in that tree, or something rare. As you can see, I was wrong. They were in heat over Ruby-throated Hummingbirds...not that there is anything wrong with that, but when I am in heat over Ruby-throated Hummingbirds I prefer to ride it out in privacy.

Ah, the Solitary Vireo. It is a variable bird. Plumbeous and Cassin's get mistaken for each other. So do Cassin's and Blue-headed. This is a dull Blue-headed, which is doing a convincing impersonation (imvireoation?) of a bright Cassin's. How many Cassin's Vireos get passed off as uninspiring Blue-headeds? How many dismal Blue-headeds get passed off as bright Cassin's? It is an ongoing tragedy to be sure.

Here is what a Blue-headed is supposed to look like...allegedly.

Bullock's Oriole is a western species, no doubt. In south Texas, their distribution in the Lower Rio Grande Valley is solidly clinal...the further east you go, the more uncommon they become. In the Falcon Reservoir area they are fairly common, but it's a rare bird on the coast. This female is one of two Bullock's I saw at South Padre Island.

In California, vagrant-hunting birders aren't overly concerned about telling apart female Bullock's from female Baltimore (female/imm. Hooded vs. Orchard is a more frequent dilemma). However, I get the impression that birders in the eastern U.S. seem to struggle with this ID...they get more intermediate-looking Baltimores than we do, I reckon. At any rate, this a typical female Bullock's...a dull, almost lifeless yellow is confined to the upper breast, head and tail, dark "tooth marks" extend into the top of the white wing bars, and relatively pale wings do not contrast sharply with the white wing bar and edgings of flight feathers. For the record, I did see my lifer Bullock's X Baltimore Oriole there this May (an adult male), which was an abomination and not actually very spiffy.

A male Bullock's Oriole, on the other hand, is an unabominable oriole. It's one of those spring arrivals that makes you think, "Shit. I forgot that birds look like this. It's amazing". Shortly afterward, your knees buckle and you collapse to the ground in an awesome agony. Then two weeks later they are practically invisible because you are a jaded birder and cannot appreciate beauty.

Oranges upon brilliant oranges with this bird.

This is the one and only Prothonotary Warbler that I met this spring. She hung around the convention center for quite a while, feasting on oranges with reckless abandon.

Look at the heavy bill of this bird. Compared to the bill of something like a Wilson's Warbler, this thing is like a fucking toucan. Also, the fact that this bird has managed to appear pear-shaped is yet another amazing accomplishment.

Did someone say Wilson's Warbler? Behold one here, in all it's mellow glory. All photos in today's post were taken on South Padre Island, TX.


  1. Ah...too late too late in June.

    Anyhow, these crushes, like the birds, are typically brilliant.

    There was one Blue-headed Vireo reported in Arizona this year, right next to the Sinaloa Wren hide out in Tubac. The fellow reporting the bird was from...Maryland, and while a somewhat darker Cassin's Vireo was seen in the area (by myself and many others) no one else ever did find a Blue-headed...

    These passerines are passingly pulchritudinous, but don't you feel a bit glutted? I suggest some ranky stanky birding to balance things out, like say, the Salton Sea in later July or something. That's my plan anyhow, but first need to turn up some cool stuff in N. Carolina.

    Great post

    1. I probably won't be getting my rank-stank on any time soon, as I'm about to start work in the bay area. Looking forward to more results from your road trip, you got some pretty crushy photos by the looks of it.