MacGillivray’s Warbler

McGillivray's Warbler
MacGillivray’s Warbler, Edith L Moore Nature Reserve, Houston, May 2nd 2017. The bright yellow underparts, black lores, and – most of all – the striking white eye crescents are clearly visible in this photo.

On Monday evening, Erik Sauder found a male MacGillivray’s Warbler in the Edith L Moore Nature Reserve in Houston, a site I have been visiting almost every evening after work since late March. Naturally, the rarest bird of the spring turned up on the one night I didn’t go to the reserve. It had showed well and Erik got a good look at it – but no photo – and with a clear night to follow, I didn’t rate my chances of relocating it again the following evening.

I felt my chances dwindling further when no one reported the bird during the day on Tuesday, and further still when I received a text from Letha Slagle to tell me she had looked for it but drawn a blank. So much so, that on arrival at the site after work on Tuesday I spent barely a couple of minutes at the spot the bird had been found next to the Church Gate.

There wasn’t much else around either (the only migrants in the whole wood appeared to be a lone Ovenbird and a Swainson’s Thrush), and just before leaving at around 6.10pm I decided to check the area around the zipline at the northwestern edge of the wood, which has proved to be one of the better areas this spring for migrant warblers.

Almost as soon as I arrived, I noticed a bird moving low down in the woods between the zip line and Memorial Drive. It quickly popped up to reveal itself as a sparkling male MacGillivray’s Warbler, without a doubt the same bird that Erik had found the previous evening just 50 yards to the south.

Better yet, I managed to get an identifiable photo of the bird before it disappeared further back among the trees, no mean feat as the lighting was poor and the bird was very actively feeding.

MacGillivray’s Warbler is a summer migrant to the western third of the USA, and a rare migrant further east. Over the last few days there has been a mini-influx in Texas with several birds reported around Corpus Christi and San Antonio. However, this bird at Edith L Moore nature reserve is the first in Harris County since one was recorded at the same site 5 years ago.

Texas tick: MacGillivray’s Warbler (total 336).

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Fallout at Sabine Woods, April 30th 2017

Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanager (male), Sabine Woods, April 30th 2017

For the second Sunday in a row, the weather conspired to produce a spectacular day for migrants on the Upper Texas coast. All week, the forecast had been promising that a front would cross the area in the early hours of Sunday morning, replacing Saturday’s strong, hot southerly winds with cool northerlies and a band of rain. For once, the forecast was more or less correct. Not much rain materialized but it didn’t matter: the cool winds stopped the migrants in their tracks and we had the best day of the season bar none.

Bay-breasted Warbler2
Bay-breasted Warbler (male), Sabine Woods, April 30th 2017

Right from the start, the woods were dripping with migrants, with Tennessee Warblers everywhere and many other warbler species mixed in. Later, the composition of the warbler flocks shifted, with higher numbers of Black-throated Green Warblers around. In total, 24 warbler species were seen in the woods during the day, of which I connected with 21 during my 9-hour visit. Very approximate numbers are listed below (the birds in brackets were the ones I missed!):

Black-throated Green Warbler 60
Tennessee Warbler 40
Magnolia Warbler 20
Chestnut-sided Warbler 15
American Redstart 15
Black-and-White Warbler 12
Ovenbird 11
Bay-breasted Warbler 10
Blackburnian Warbler 10
Yellow Warbler 3
Canada Warbler 3
Northern Parula 3
Golden-winged Warbler 3
Blue-winged Warbler 2
Common Yellowthroat 2
Northern Waterthrush 2
Hooded Warbler 2
Worm-eating Warbler 1
Swainson’s Warbler 1
Kentucky Warbler 1
Cerulean Warbler 1
(Blackpoll Warbler 1)
(Mourning Warbler 1)
(Nashville Warbler 1)

Magnolia Warbler
Magnolia Warbler (male), Sabine Woods, April 30th 2017 – one of about 20 present

It proved extremely hard to get good photos of these very active birds, which showed few signs of being exhausted after their long trans-Gulf journey. I would have particularly loved a decent photo of the male Cerulean Warbler, which all spring has been my number one target warbler – I was lucky to get one at all as April 30th is a late date for this species. The best pic I could manage was this mostly-obscured effort, but at least the shot is kind-of in focus and the beautiful blue color of the upperparts can be seen:

Cerulean Warbler
Cerulean Warbler (male), Sabine Woods, April 30th 2017

Today wasn’t just about the warblers. The woods were carpeted with Gray Catbirds, the trees teemed with Tanagers (Scarlet and Summer), the fields out back bounced with Buntings (Painted and Indigo), while six Vireo species – White-eyed, Red-eyed, Blue-headed, Yellow-throated, Warbling, and Philadelphia – was an excellent day count.

Canada Warbler
Canada Warbler, Sabine Woods, April 30th 2017

These last two Sundays have compensated in spectacular style for the dire start to the spring season. With about two weeks left of migration, the species variety will start to tail off, but we still haven’t seen many of the late-arriving birds hit Texas yet. Fingers crossed for another weather front or two to hit the coast before mid-May …..

World Life List: 2,182
Texas Life List: 335
Texas 2017 Year List: 312

Blackburnian Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler (male), Sabine Woods, April 30th 2017. My favorite warbler of them all, and despite many prolonged close-range sightings of them today, this photo was the best I could manage – they never stay still for more than a split second!