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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Townsend's Warbler

Yesterday we went to see the Townsend's Warbler near Walpole, NH. It has been hanging out for over a week in a weedy edge near farm fields on North River Rd. On a very gray day, I took a number of photos with my Canon 1D Mark IV at 1000 ISO. The bird was very small in the frame and these are cropped photos. A lot can be learned from the photos. The above photo clearly shows the dark cheek patch surrounded by yellow and the yellow wash on the breast, all distinctive clues that help ID Townsend's Warbler from other warbler species. If this were a breeding male in spring, this bird would have a black throat and heavy black streaks on back and sides. Even in fall an adult male would have some black on throat. The summer adult female would have some black on throat with finer streaking on back, breast, sides and flanks. This bird has a whitish throat and somewhat blurred streaking on sides.

This is a good view of the back and there are no obvious defined black streaks or black spots on the back.

The right side view shows the back, gray cheek, whitish central throat. A few of the black streaks on the upper right side of the breast seem dark and noticeable, the side streaks on flanks are more blurry.

This is a nice view of the back. There is a smudge of orange in the yellow eyebrow, perhaps a result of this bird coming in contact with the bittersweet berries it had been seen foraging near. I do not know if it actually ate the berries, we did not see it do so. Townsend's are known to mainly eat insects. It would be nice to think it ate berries, if it is going to attempt survive in winter at this location.

In this extreme blown up section of photo you can see there are fairly wide dark shafts through the white median covert feathers. According to the bird bander's manual (Identification Guide to North American Birds, part 1 by Peter Pyle) under the Townsend's Warbler account, page 475, the HY/SY female (i.e. first year female) has "medium coverts usually with wide, black streaks through the white tips." According to Pyle, the adult female and first year male have "medium coverts with narrow black streaks through the white tips," and Pyle has a drawing of these feathers. If a bander had this bird in the hand, they would be looking closely at the shape and feather wear of the primary coverts and tail feathers for clues to aging and sexing.

Here is a better view of the throat and chin, which is pale yellow and whitish on lower throat.

This photo shows the streaks on the undertail coverts and, amazingly you can see the yellow soles to the feet!

Another view of the back which looks very plain.

I happened to catch it just as it flew, a beautiful little blur.

Special thanks to Ron ("I will someday see a Cackling Goose") and JoAnn, two VT birders who were already there and showed us the warbler. And, they even bought our new Stokes Field Guide to Birds!

Telling the age and sex of some of the warblers in fall can be challenging. For Townsend's Warbler, the first winter male and winter adult female are quite similar. The winter adult female is similar to summer plumage, but has the black on throat and back streaks somewhat obscured by yellow feather tips. The first winter male is very similar but has small black spots on the back. The first winter female has little or no black on lower throat, with some birds having the center of the throat pale yellowish or white, and no streaks on back and blurred streaking on sides and flanks. This bird has more of the marks of a first winter female. A bird bander, holding the bird in hand, could be definitive.

It was a thrill to see this bird, which is so out of range. Townsend's Warblers breed in the Northwest, up to Alaska, migrate through the West and winter on the West Coast. Many have wandered to eastern states in fall. We do not know what will happen to it, but we hope it survives.

After seeing the warbler, we went to the famous Burdick's restaurant and shop in Walpole, NH which has THE BEST chocolate!! Rare bird and world class chocolate, it doesn't get much better than that.


YourBirdOasis said...

What a fantastic look at a Townsend's! I wonder how it found itself on the east coast? I bet the birders were going nuts! :)

Birding is Fun! said...

and that was one spectacular warbler we westerners used to be able to hang over easterners heads while we missed out on all the great eastern US warblers. But not now!

Well, now that I am becoming an easterner myself I am super excited about learning the warblers. I am studying up on them in my Sotkes Guide!

Lillian Stokes said...

Hi Birding is Fun,
You are in for a treat with the eastern warblers, just wait until next spring and the warbler bonanza.

The Townsend's must have taken a wrong turn.

cindyzlogic said...

Sweet little bird! I have not seen any kind of Warbler yet. So happy for you :-)

Unknown said...

On our first community bird walk in Cobbs Creek Park just west of Philadelphia our naturalist sighted a townsend warbler today (11/20/10). We totally share your sense of wonder and excitement. Heard about you sighting from a friend in Buffalo who follows birding posts.