Posts Tagged ‘Warblers’

Many bird species migrate south every autumn to escape the frigid winters of northern North America. As the snow melts and the plants begin to green in the spring, millions of birds flow back to their summer breeding grounds. While Common Terns and a few other species will breed here, other birds only make a short stopover on or around Ship Island before resuming their northward flight. We’ve had the pleasure of catching a glimpse of a few of these passersby.

Common Loons, Long-tailed Ducks, and Black Scoters overwinter on saltwater. Loons breed on inland wooded lakes during the summer, while the ducks nest in northern Canada. Some of these waterbirds around Ship may have spent the winter in Blue Hill Bay, but others are probably working their way up the coast from further south.

Shorebirds, such as Black-bellied Plovers, Least Sandpipers, and Short-billed Dowitchers spend the colder months along the southeastern and Mid-Atlantic coast. Foraging along the tideline of Ship Island, these birds can refuel for the rest of their trip to their Canadian breeding grounds.

Short-billed Dowitchers

A small group of our 57 visiting Short-billed Dowitchers

Bird watchers throughout the country revel in the annual springtime flurry of songbirds, especially the colorful warblers. We on Ship are no different, chasing half a dozen warbler species around our small grove. Several Yellow Warblers and Common Yellowthroats will remain for the summer, but others are on their way to breeding grounds in mainland Maine. Magnolia, Blackpoll, and Chestnut-sided Warblers, along with a Northern Parula have all visited the island, gleaning small insects from the cherry trees.

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler in the grove

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler checking out the camera

No migration post would be complete without making mention of the Snowy Owl that visited the island before the summer crew arrived. Two volunteer island-sitters were lucky enough to spot this Arctic predator flying around the island before its northward departure. As wonderful a sight as it would have been, it is probably for the best that it continued its journey before the arrival of most of the owl-meal-sized terns.

Until next time!


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During the past few weeks, we have enjoyed watching the migrating passerines that pause to rest and refuel on Petit Manan. On the mainland, many migrants are spread far and wide throughout expansive forest habitat, often bouncing around high in the trees. However, here on PMI we have the rare opportunity to see songbirds up-close in the intertidal. Flies buzzing among the rockweed provide a perfect meal for these hungry birds. Since Petit Manan covers 16 acres and has only one tree (a twisted spruce that is a few feet tall), migrants are easily visible and concentrated within a small area. It seems almost surreal to find Blackburnian Warblers like this one hopping along the rocks, since this species normally feeds high in the treetops.



Wilson’s Warbler




Black-and-White Warbler


Northern Parula


Magnolia Warbler


White-throated Sparrow (top) and Black-throated Blue Warbler (bottom)

Many of these migrants have traveled all the way from wintering grounds in Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. It is amazing to think that such tiny birds can travel this far, and continue even further northward to breed. Passerines often travel by night to avoid predation, and we sometimes hear them calling after dark as they resume their journeys.

We look forward to having more migrant visitors, and adding to our quickly growing bird list!


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It’s almost the end of the season here on Metinic, and we’ve just spotted our 145th species: a Bonaparte’s Gull. A significant part of why we’ve been able to spot so many different species out on this year is that in addition to seabirds, our island is the breeding ground for many birds found in forests and fields. Previous years’ crews have caught some of these birds and banded them, but we won’t be running a banding station out here this year. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate our feathery friends in the woods! Here are photos of some of our local songbirds looking their best. There are too many to cover in a single entry, so I’ve picked out some of our favorites. As usual, click the photos to see a

Savannah Sparrows are without a doubt our most common songbird. They are found mostly in the relatively open portions of the island and build grass nests directly on the ground. We wake up every morning to their buzzy songs – one Savannah Sparrow in particular has claimed the top of our outhouse for his favorite singing perch.

Savannah Sparrow - Photo by Zak

Savannah Sparrow – Photo by Zak

A cousin of the Savannah Sparrow, the Song Sparrow is also quite common on Metinic. They’re a bit drabber – no flashy yellow eyebrows here – but their song is much more melodious.  Song Sparrows also prefer shrubbier habitat than the Savannahs.

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Song Sparrow – Photo by Zak

Our first truly forest-dwelling species of the day: a Myrtle Warbler. These lovely little birds are lumped together with the Audubon’s Warbler as a single species, the Yellow-rumped Warbler. These brightly colored “butter butts” (as some birders like to call them) are found throughout the Metinic woods, particularly around the edges.

Myrtle Warbler - Photo by Zak

Myrtle Warbler – Photo by Zak

Metinic is home to two champion singers: the Winter Wren and the Gray Catbird. The Catbird knows the most songs of any bird on the island – although some might say he cheats, since he’s a mimic. Listening to a Catbird you can pick out any number of other bird songs from his enthusiastic solo concerts. You might also hear the occasional cat-like “meow” that gives this bird its name.

Gray Catbird - Photo by Zak

Gray Catbird – Photo by Zak

The Winter Wren, on the other hand, composes and performs his own music. There may only be one or two Winter Wrens on the island, but we can hear them all over the woods.

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Winter Wren – Photo by Zak


Our last and smallest (but not least!) bird for today is the fiery-headed Golden-crowned Kinglet. These tiny birds make their home in Maine year-round – they’re one of the smallest birds to spend the winter this far north.  They’re even smaller than Maine’s ubiquitous Black-capped Chickadees! We spotted their cousin, the Ruby-crowned Kinglet, earlier in the season as well, but only the Golden-crowned decided to stick around for the summer. Check out that bright orange and yellow crown the kinglets use to attract mates and scare away competition!

Golden-crowned Kinglet - Photo by Zak

Golden-crowned Kinglet – Photo by Zak

The season may be drawing to a close, but you haven’t heard the last from Metinic 2013!


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After a tough summer last year, we’ve been giving the terns of Metinic a little extra space. Zak and I have been minimizing our time in the tern colony itself so that the terns can feel safe and undisturbed. This leaves us with some free time on our hands, so we’ve been keeping busy and satisfying our love of birds by looking for migrating birds in the Metinic woods.

Black-throated Green Warbler - by Zak

Black-throated Green Warbler – by Zak

Reports from previous years included a list of all the species seen on Metinic during each season. We counted them up and found 131 species was the previous record. However (drumroll please)…

As of today, we’ve got a new record: 135 species!

Many of these species are migrants that stop over on Metinic on their way to more northerly breeding grounds. On one single rainy day, we saw 90 species, most of them warblers and other small songbirds in a “fallout” from the bad weather.

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Northern Parula eating a fly – by Zak

To celebrate, here are some of the best photos of our visiting feathery friends. Wish them luck because they’ve still got quite a ways to travel – some are headed all the way to the Arctic!  (Click on the pictures to see them more clearly)

Scarlet Tanager - by Zak

Scarlet Tanager – by Zak

American Oystercatcher - by Zak

American Oystercatcher – by Zak

Black-billed Cuckoo - by Zak
Black-billed Cuckoo – by Zak

Lincoln's Sparrow - by Zak

Lincoln’s Sparrow – by Zak

Yellow Warbler - b y Zak

Yellow Warbler – by Zak

135 birds, and we’ve still got a month and half on the island. We’ll keep you posted as our list grows!


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Petit Manan Island (on one of the few sunny days so far)

Andrea and I (Jordan) have been on Petit Manan Island (PMI) for a little over a week now, getting the island ready for the seabird breeding season. Although the weather has been rather wet and dreary, we’ve put up our observation blinds from which we can watch the Common and Arctic Terns that nest all over the ground, as well as the Alcids (Atlantic Puffins, Razorbills, and Black Guillemots) that nest in rock and sod cavities along the perimeter of the island. There are not many seabirds yet—the terns are still arriving (we’re up to about 500 now), and they only land on the island at night and in the early morning, and the Alcids are just scoping out burrow locations. But luckily for us bird nerds, there are TONS of migrating songbirds stopping to rest and refuel on PMI. We’ve seen over 50 bird species so far, including many warblers, thrushes, and sparrows that are moving through on their way to their breeding grounds. We’ve included photos of some of the migrants we’ve seen so far, and we’ll keep you posted as the seabirds settle in!

Black and White Warbler

Eastern Bluebird

American Redstart

Magnolia Warbler

2013 Bird List (so far)

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While our terns are busy incubating their eggs, I thought I’d take some time to fill everyone in on some of the other birdlife here on Ship Island.

Although they might be the most numerous, Common Terns aren’t the only birds that nest on Ship.  In fact, Jill and I usually wake up to the sounds of song birds, not sea birds. Six species in particular call Ship their summer home:  three sparrows, two warblers, and a swallow. Many local birders will find most, if not all, of these to be familiar Maine residents.

First up is the melodious Song Sparrow. Although they may lack the sleek elegance of a tern, they make up for it with a distinct voice. We estimate there to be about six pairs nesting on Ship, although they’re loud enough to be heard on every part of the island.

Our second sparrow is the sonorous Savannah Sparrow.  At first glance they look quite similar to a Song Sparrow, but they sport some flashy yellow eyebrows (technically called the supercilliam). Again, we believe we have about six pairs nesting on the shrubby interior of Ship Island. We often see both Savannah and Song Sparrows chasing each other around the island.

A Savannah Sparrow

Our third sparrow is the more elusive Nelson’s Sparrow.  We’ve only spotted two of these on the island so far, but we’re hoping to find more. Compared to the warbles, cheeps, and trills of the Savannah and Song Sparrows, the song of the Nelson’s Sparrow is quite distinct: a sharp hiss, which reminds me of a burger being dropped onto a hot grill.

A Nelson’s Sparrow

Besides those three sparrows, our most numerous non-tern residents are warblers: Common Yellowthroats and Yellow Warblers.

With their distinctive black masks, Common Yellowthroat males are quiet striking. They’re also far from the secretive tree-top dwellers many birders think of when they hear the word “warbler.” Our Yellowthroats are most often seen perched on the top of a bramble or other shrub, singing their hearts out like the fellow below. We’ve got at least three pairs nesting on the island.

A male Common Yellowthroat

Yellow Warblers are usually the first bird I hear in the mornings, probably because we’ve got a pair nesting right next to the cabin.  We’ve got perhaps four or five nests of these flashy little, and it’s not uncommon to see pairs of males chasing each other around the middle of the island.

A male Yellow Wabler

Our final bird for today is a change-up from the first five birds I’ve listed. Our seven resident Bank Swallows are in almost constant motion. They’ve set up shop under the bluff of the high side of the island. Presumably, they have a burrow there, but we haven’t managed to spot it. We’re keeping our eyes open, though. Until then, we’ve been enjoying the gurgling calls and acrobatic maneuvers of these zippy little birds. So far, they’ve proven faster than my camera, so here’s a shot of where we suspect they’re living:

Here’s the bank, but where are the Bank Swallows? So far, they’re too fast for my camera.

Stay tuned for Part 2: Seabirds, Shorebirds, and other Swimmers!

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