Each spring many birders, myself included, anxiously await the return of warblers to our area. These small songbirds are some of the most colourful birds to grace our area, yet are also some of the most challenging to identify. The first of May is a date I watch for on my calendar, as this is when we can expect to see warblers return to Southwestern Ontario in good numbers.
While birding in several locations over the past week, I saw a significant increase in the number of warblers present each day I was out. Three species continue to be the most abundant: Yellow, Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers. I have been observing good numbers of these birds throughout the city, with numbers steadily increasing.
Other warbler species I have observed include: Magnolia, Pine, and Black and White. Sightings of Blackburnian, Black-throated Green, and Northern Parula have also been reported from within the city.
City parks and ESAs are where I focused my efforts this past week, concentrating on the edges of wooded areas containing small trees and shrubs. Mornings are always when I have the most success locating warblers. Since warblers migrate at night, early morning is when these birds are most active; feeding heavily as they replenish energy spent the previous night.
I have been paying close attention to the daily reports from the 2016 Festival of Birds at Point Pelee National Park. So far, 25 warbler species have been reported from within the park, which is low compared to previous years. The lack of clear nights and south winds could be contributing to these low numbers. Fortunately, this means many more warblers will be making their way through the city in the coming weeks.
When searching for warblers be sure you position yourself out of the wind. These sheltered areas are where insects will be most abundant, therefore attracting the highest concentration of warblers. When you come across an area rich with warblers, stay in that location; large concentrations of birds are often found within small areas. Some of our ESAs are hundreds of hectares in size, but many of the areas where I locate the largest number of warblers are often only 20 yards in length and 10 yards wide. Once you locate a high concentration of warblers, find an open area with pockets of light shining in. This will make for unobstructed views and optimal photos.
When I locate a warbler, but cannot manage a clear view or unobstructed photograph, I stand still and study its behaviour. By not making any sudden movements, the bird doesn’t view me as a threat and becomes accustomed to my presence. I can then see its direction of travel, anticipate its movements, and put myself in a position to get a clear view and photograph. This technique does not require a lot of patience, and I am often rewarded within a few minutes. So often I see others chasing birds around, only to stress and scare them off.
The coming weeks will present opportune times for warbler viewing in our area. Pay close attention to the weather forecast; look for clear skies and south winds overnight. The mornings following these conditions can be the best ones to head out. Grab your binoculars, field guide, camera, and make your way to your favourite natural area. The warblers will be waiting for you.