Warblers
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First we'll bore you to tears with some warbler talk, and if or when you can't take it, scroll down to the pictures.   :)

Warblers are many people's favorite birds. Stunning beauty, fast action, endless variety, amazing lives, most with long migrations, and in fall, identification challenges. Most don't really warble very well, but their songs are favorites, each usually with A and B songs, plus a selection of call notes.... imagine 55 chip notes to learn! How exciting can it get!?!   Each chip slightly different in its own special way, when learned may offer the best most diagnostic field mark one could ask for.  The thrill of it all!

Here we'll show a few of them, and might even include some photos taken elsewhere to better illustrate them. About 40 of North America's 55 species are known from the Sabinal River Valley area. Only about 20 and change occur in any given year, if you are lucky. I have seen 30+ species at Utopia Park (in 10 yrs.). With its 30 years of spring birder coverage Lost Maples shows 33 species of warblers on its list. BUT nearly HALF of them (15) have been seen only once, they are accidental, less than 20 species are reported annually there.

Most of the warbler diversity here is migrants, and that is far better in spring than fall. Only a few types winter here. The biggest diversity single day I had here was a late season cold front on May 2, 2011, with 21 species around Utopia, most at the park.  That is a once in a decade event, any day you find 10 species here you did good.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat, the bird that perhaps has defied taxonomic understanding as well as any breeding North American species. It has been put with warblers for some time, but it is not one. I wondered why it was put with them when I was 5 years old. We cover it here, since it has been grouped with them for so long.



We have a few nesting species of warblers locally, 5 regular annual breeders, and 3 species of toe-holder colonists that are perhaps wishing and hoping they could breed, maybe they are. Of course most have at least heard of the Golden-cheeked Warbler due to its endangered status. Though widespread locally, it is best seen at Lost Maples SNA, mid-March through June, though present through July, they can be tough late in season. It has its own page (linked on bird photo index page among other spots).

Other warblers nesting there (LMSNA) and other headwater stream habitats locally like Big Springs over the divide, are Louisiana Waterthrush, and Black-and-white Warbler. Some Black-and-whites nest along Sabinal River where mixed deciduous. Anywhere along the big rivers in tall Cypress trees there are nesting Yellow-throated Warbler, of a vocally distinct flavor, and a ball moss specialist here. Edwardsplateauensis I call it. Finally, the 5th regular nesting 'warbler' is Yellow-breasted Chat which uses brushy areas either in the riparian flood zone, or around fields and woodland edges.

A note on the Yellow-throated Warbler song type here. All across America, found in the entire eastern half, Yellow-throated Warblers sing essentially the same song, a descending Canyon Wren like clear whistled down scale run: slee slee slee slee slee slee slee slee slee. Sometimes with a high thick TIK note at the end for flourish. Here, on the Medina, Sabinal, Frio, Nueces and Guadalupe Rivers at least, they sing a lazy modulation between two frequencies, with a different emphatic ending. Some might say more like between a Hooded and Chestnut- sided Warbler, or even a Yellow-rumped Warbler, but quite very unlike all the other Yellow-throated Warblers in the U.S.. It is sort of a slow lazy "we see we see we SEE you two."

The line of seperation of this vocally distinct population is a map that has never been drawn, in fact when I asked about it on Texbirds I got a bunch of quizzical stares, apparently no one had noticed these bird's distinct song type here before. I am surprised Oberholser missed this, considering things like Bexar Brown Thrasher, but dead birds don't sing. These Yellow-throated can also show an almost orange tint to the lower throat, very briefly in spring, which wears away quickly. I do not know if the rest show that or not. Here the species is abundant, territories ca. 200-300 linear feet of river gallery forest, and are edge to edge. It is a Ball Moss (Tillandsia recurvata) specialist, feeding heavilly and nesting in it. Nesting is usually high in the Bald Cypress that line the major rivers, but it does nest away from the river and Cypresses in live-oak mottes that are heavily infested with Ball Moss.



Black-and-white Warbler

First summer male Black-and-white Warbler, a bark specialist that works the trunks and large branches of trees.



In the borderline irregular category, there are a few other warblers perhaps trying to breed locally. There are what seem to be nesting Northern Parula across the divide from Lost Maples at Big Springs, the Frio river headwaters, discovered by Tony Gallucci. They are a less than annual spring migrant on the Sabinal River.

There are no summering Northern Parulas along the Frio or Sabinal Rivers.  They only occur as rare migrants in April. The above mentioned probable nesting Northern Parula are way above Leakey in a unique exceptionally lush headwaters micro-habitat, unlike the Frio or Sabinal gallery forest habitats along their corridors.

Then territorial singing male Tropical Parula are nearly annual along the big south-draining rivers in April and May, in small but multiple numbers, but no local breeding is known or proven. Almost all are males, some years two or three occur, trolling with song, one stayed 6 weeks on territory near Utopia.

A PAIR of Rufous-capped Warbler was resident a couple years at Concan until a 3-day ice storm. There are numerous local records and it should be expected to continue attempts at colonization, as the Tropical Parula is. Another one and an apparent hybrid has been at Park Chalk Bluff in 2013-14.

So three additional species of warblers have toeholds, sorta, locally, as extremely low density colonizers and presumed attempting breeders. A nest has never been found in the state for the Rufous-capped, or in hill country for the Tropical Parula. Any suspected instance requires good documentation.

For spring warbler migration, Nashville Warbler is the only abundant species locally. Yellow-rumped (mostly Myrtle, some Audubon's), and Orange-crowned, the next two most numerous, could qualify as common migrant species. Then probably Yellow Warbler is the 4th most common. Black-throated Green and Wilson's are 5th and 6th most common and Black-and-white 7th. Of those species multiples are expected best day of passage each spring. After that it gets slim pickens quickly, and nothing could be considered common. This is not migrant warbler heaven, with its low diversity of generally inland or overland migrants, and no focal point of geographics or habitat (concentration factor). It takes work to see 20 species in a spring migration season, and a quarter of those will likely be "only one individual seen" species.

The lack of concentration factor, where a billion acres all look the same from the sky, a tree everywhere, no matter where the bird looks, especially shows in fall when besides Yellow Warbler, seeing multiples of almost anything is unusual. Very few warblers pass through the area (detectably) in fall until late October or November when the Yellow-rumped Warblers arrive. In winter there will be Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) and a few Orange-crowned for sure. Most winters there will be some Pine Warblers along any drainage corridor, especially at Garner S.P.  Most warblers are highly insectivorous, and only those that can eat other things like berries, or seeds, can winter northward usually.

Here are a few poor pictures of some of the warblers found here ...


Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler



Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat
(yes the names can be confusing)



Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler
some are named for the hardest part to see.



Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler, which will use hummer feeders in winter



Pine Warbler Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler, adult right, immature left, is regular in low numbers in winter.



Myrtle Warbler

"Myrtle" form of Yellow-rumped Warbler



Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler



Rufous-capped Warbler

Rufous-capped Warbler



Rufous-capped Warbler

Rufous-capped Warbler



Tropical Parula

Tropical Parula, a rarity locally



Golden-cheeked Warbler

Golden-cheeked Warbler



Golden-cheeked Warbler

Golden-cheeked Warbler



Townsend's Warbler Townsend's Warbler

Townsend's Warbler at our bird bath Sept. 25, 2013



Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler, male at Utopia Park Aug 9-18, 2009.
Accidental in fall in west half of Texas.



Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush, juvenile



Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush, adult



Golden-cheeked Warbler

Golden-cheeked Warbler male feeding fledgling (taken through telescope from safe distance)



Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, not a warbler, but often with them in winter.



Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush, adult



Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush, adult



One last chip note, on Louisiana Waterthrush identification here. Some field guides stress or tout the pink buff flanks and two-toned (bicolored) eye-line as being critical to ID it. Note in the two above photos, perhaps closer than the average field view, these things are not apparent.  Such is often if not typically the case here in spring to early summer. Not all Lousiana show the flank color, as it wears off over winter, causing many mis-identified reports of Northern Waterthrush at Lost Maples. Buffy flanks go from absent to boldly apparent in late summer when they complete pre-basic molt around late July or August usually.

Also note contrary to some published accounts (Dunn and Garrett Peterson Warbler Field Guide), any Louisiana Waterthrush after early Sept. does not need documentation here.  In fact in early Septmember here at say Lost Maples, or Big Springs above Leakey, I want proof you saw a Northern. Which does occur, but is not much more likely is the point.

Louisiana have been detected present and singing into September locally.  Tony Gallucci had them one year on Nature Quest at Big Springs singing on Sept 15 still, and another year on a NQ walk he and I had it singing there on Sept. 21. So, many elsewhere may have left there territories by early Sept., and some of these do too, but some of these are often still nesting again in August, and at mid-September can sometimes be still singing on territory.

Here below is another example of Louisiana Waterthrush here past early September, this one wintered at Utopia Park. Frankly a wintering waterthrush here on plateau seems more likely to be Louisiana than Northern.

Louisiana Waterthrush

Apparently the first ever documented over-wintering Louisiana Waterthrush on the Edwards Plateau, present at Utopia Park from early December (at least) 2014 to Feb. 13, 2015, so far. This image acquired Jan. 25, 2015.




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