Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Golden-winged Warbler-Summer-2009 in Massachusetts

Source: Wikipedia

It was an ordinary work day morning as I sat at my desk, staring at a spreadsheet and longing to be outside on another gorgeous day with bright sun and blue skies. I was working on a query, when suddenly I get a message popup of an incoming email from Alan which I found odd considering it was only 10AM and normally I don’t here from him until at least 1 when he is done with his birding for the day. You see, Alan is the first birding friend of mine I had ever met and he lives in the same town as I so very often he emails me to tell me his finds for the day, just in case I want to scope it out after work, or just to share his bird tales with me as I live vicariously through him during the work week while stuck in the office while he is birding.

Anyhow, I prepare myself to open the email hoping its not too good of a bird as that is torture when you are cube bound because you can’t see it for yourself. I finally open the message and am perplexed over how cryptic and rushed the email seemed which went something like this

“Kim, I was at one of my atlas blocks this morning and I just found a Golden-winged Warbler! I got a really good look at it, but it flew away and really need a record shot. Can you leave work to get some pictures for me? I can pick you up and drive you back to work if you need me to.”

Source:USDA: Breeding Bird Survey 1994-2003

I read the email one more time and wonder why the excitement. I had heard about the Golden-winged Warbler before and even seen some pictures, but at that point in my birding I had no idea how significant a find such as this was. I do a quick google search and read up on it and come across a map and suddenly I understand why the message is so rushed. I do some google image searches and before my eyes is one of the most beautiful warblers I had ever laid my eyes upon. Suddenly my breath quickens as I try to think of ways to get out of work. I can hold my stomach and run past my co-workers toward the bathroom telling them it must be something I ate, I can run out in a panic with my handbag and laptop and just tell them a crisis arose and I have to leave immediately (that one is almost true!). But alas, I realize there is no way I can leave and the only thing one can do at that point is pray that the bird decides to stay until the weekend when I can get there for record shots.

Female Eastern Towhee who was also a resident at the same area

Soon enough the weekend arrives as we head out to the block hoping the bird was still there. Alan had not returned since that day as he didn't want to disturb it in fear the bird would take off. We made our way through thick brush as various warblers were heard and seen along the rough path. Both of our eyes and ears were on everyone of them, just in case it was the Golden-winged. We get to the exact location where the warbler was found and look around and decide to wait for a while.
The first look at the Golden-winged Warbler

After much patience and waiting a tiny gray and yellow bird came flying into some brush. "Kim, that’s him" Alan whispers. I get my camera on the bird and click goes my camera before it flies off again. We search furiously for it and it appears quickly again on another branch quick enough for me to get a photo before it flies off again (that was the pattern throughout the encounter). All of this movement made for terrible pictures as I could never get my camera to focus on the bird, but rather the brush around it, plus lighting was terrible that day so all of my photos came out over exposed as I didn't have time to play with my ISO settings). Finally we head back toward the car as my spirits were a little down. Sure I got to see that magnificent, gorgeous bird, but my pictures came out lousy and I wasn't even sure if Alan could use them as record shots. I wanted these pictures to come out crystal clear so everyone could see this magical little bird my friend had found as I knew it was most likely the only one in the state and was happy that Alan was the one who found it. Anyhow, the pictures were what they were, and I was glad a couple came out well enough for a positive ID.

Picture of it diving down into brush which it often liked to do

Another shot of it hiding from view!

Sure enough the photos are acceptable proof and both of us are asked to keep this quiet so the bird doesn't leave in the middle of the breeding season. This caused some anguish for both of us with Alan in particular as he has many birding friends out there he wanted to tell so they could see it for themselves. I had a few too, but in all honesty there was a good chance word would have broken out as it always does and scores of birders from all over New England would have been headed there all in an attempt to see the bird for themselves which both of us could truly appreciate. There are times when one must always put the bird before the birder (in fact, it should always be that way), and this was a prime example. As hard as it was, it was kept secret because we wanted that bird to stick around and perhaps even breed at that location and give the bird a chance.

Notebook that was used to learn more about this warbler. I have many of these binders!

We had gone there again a few days later to see if we could get a better look at this elusive little bird. I had printed out a ton of material on the bird at this point, as well as information on the Blue-winged Warbler as they have been known to inter-breed and have a similar song so wanted to really get the songs down pat to make searching for the bird a little easier next time. Once we arrived we could immediately hear the birds Type II song as we got out of the car. Neither of us had any experience with the song first hand, but had listened to it endless times during the week and I was almost convinced that’s exactly what it was vs. the Blue-winged Warbler Type II song which is very much alike. Finally Mark and Sheila arrive as they both knew of this bird as they are the regional coordinators for Central Massachusetts and they wanted to come to see the bird for themselves and get some pictures. The bird decided to continue to hide but you could hear its Type II song throughout clusters of trees in the middle of thick brush that would have been impossible to navigate through. Both Mark and Sheila are extremely experienced at bird song and were able to confirm it as the Golden-winged Warbler type II song and we were all glad it was still sticking around. Alan returned by himself exactly 7 days later to get the bird as a probable and there before him stood the Golden-winged Warbler, teed up on a branch singing his heart out and his type II song.

A visual of the Golden-winged Warblers Type I and Type II song

Wildflowers found along the rough path and thick brush.

So with that I share this story with you all. Why did I wait so long to post it? There are quite a few reasons with the primary one being we had to wait until breeding season was over with (bird before birder). My computer had crashed which had my pictures (Alan had them saved on his own computer thank goodness) and of course, the fact that we never shared this birds sighting with anyone and Alan kept it quiet and only told a couple of people afterwards and I respected that. So with the leaves falling from the trees, the frost forming on grass and daylight being robbed from us every day, I thought now would be the perfect time to go back when the sun was bright and the skies were blue. I also want to share this story to give credit to Alan who is one hell of a birder and deserves proper credit for one of the most significant bird findings of the year in my opinion. Through his hard work, patience and countless hours of atlasing, he had discovered a very special bird out in the middle of an overgrown area many would have never ventured to. Hats off to you my friend, job well done!

Take care all


Robin Robinson said...

As one birder to another, NOW THAT WAS EXCITING!

Larry said...

A great bird to see...especially in Massachusetts

Kelly said...

...wow.....a very exciting account, Kim! I loved reading about it. Glad you saw it....it must have been horrible sitting on that, but thank goodness you did to protect the bird. :-)

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