Confusing spring warblers

My old copy of the Peterson field guide has a couple of plates of confusing fall warblers.  And they do look confusing.

But this morning I got confused too – in the famous Rock Creek Park.  I joined a group of birders and we were looking for migrating warblers high up in the trees.    My guide was Wallace Kornack who certainly knows his birds – he was a great mentor for me.  But the other birders present were all very helpful and friendly to a UK birder who doesn’t know his Black-throated Green from his Magnolia.  Thank you from me to all of them.

We saw and heard a lot.  There were: Black-throated Greens and Black-throated Blues, Parulas, lots of Yellow-rumps, American Redstarts, Black and Whites, Yellowthroat, Bay-breasteds (maybe the best one of the lot if you know what you’re doing) and Nashville.  There were others but these are the ones I saw or heard.

And they don’t all look the same but many of them are yellow and black and white with some blue or red or brown.  And they hide behind leaves.  And the sexes are different. And they stay at the tops of the trees. And, and, and… And they move like lightening.

But they are beautiful – really beautiful.  And they are amazing and lovely.

So I am going back for another lesson in lessening confusion with Wallace tomorrow.  And I am really looking forward to it.

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The same and different

You never imagine your holidays in the rain do you? But when I woke up at 4am local time it was raining hard.  Still a Northern Mockingbird sang outside – I didn’t feel mocked at all.

As well as the birds being different – or some of them anyway – we’ll come back to that – so is the human language.   I’ve had to repeat myself several times for others and ask them to repeat things for me – I don’t know what it is but there’s a slight communications glitch between us.

And the birds aren’t all different – starlings and house sparrows are, by far, the commonest birds I have seen.

I’ve bought a cell phone and a netbook so this blog is, fingers crossed, up and running.  Many thanks to a guy called Mario and the Geek Squad in Best Buy Columbia Heights who got me sorted out – much appreciated.

As I passed time while they did their stuff I was coming up the remarkably slow elevator out of the metro onto the sidewalk when I heard an unfamiliar bird song.  At present, almost all the bird songs are unfamiliar, of course, but this one sounded like it should be a warbler.

In the small group of trees by the Navy Memorial it sang its trill.  There were lots of sparrows in the tree, getting in the way, and then I saw a warbler with two white wing bars and a yellow throat and breast with an orange blob on it – a Northern Parula.  If you are a US birder then nothing to write home about, but since I am not, I am.

And meanwhile, back home, the Guardian has published a comment piece by me on the state of nature conservation.  James Meikle writes a piece about it and the NFU President Peter Kendall gets hot under the collar about it – but doesn’t actually address the points made.

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A cure for jet lag?

I spent yesterday evening with a bunch of nature conservationists in Washington Zoo. And then we sat outside in the warm evening air, had a beer or two and talked about nature conservation and about birds. Not so different from Home really.

In fact the topics were very similar – do we do nature conservation for nature’s sake or for ours? How do we get the public fired up? What about marine ecosystems? Do commercially important fish count as wildlife too? What will be the impact of Government spending cuts?

And which spring migrants have been seen? A Blackburnian? A Black-throated green? Lots of Yellow-rumps? Only the species are different.

There were three people I talked to whom I might more usually have met in Cambridge – the picture on Jane’s face when she saw me there! – and several existing US friends and some new ones.

As we sat outside a Nighthawk flew over to add itself to Gray Catbird, American Robin, Chimney Swift and House Sparrow. Yes, dear Reader, seeing nature and meeting friends make a cure for jet lag.

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Around the States in 40 days

I got here and the first bird I saw was … a starling. Yep a small flock feeding on some grass in central Washington. But I am glad to see there is still a Northern Mockingbird in the street outside the Tabard Inn where I am staying.

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Springing across the pond

It’s late spring here in east Northants.  It’s over a month since I saw my first sand martins, chiffchaffs, blackcaps and willow warblers.  I’ve seen, locally, a good list of spring-bringers – those mentioned already and garden warbler, sedge warbler, reed warbler, grasshopper warbler, whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, cuckoo, nightingale, yellow wagtail, swallow, house martin, common sandpiper, common tern and swift.  And all of those within a few miles of where I live.

And what I haven’t seen, has been seen by others – we are just waiting now for spotted flycatchers.  But spring happens in different places at different times.  The few Arctic terns and bar-tailed godwits which are rushing through the Nene Valley on early mornings are still heading for their spring in the high Arctic.  They’ll end up in places where the smell of hawthorn blossom has never been experienced.  Perhaps they’ll see polar bears while they are sitting on their eggs.

And tomorrow I am off to find a new spring.  I’ll be on a plane to Washington DC (thank you US forces for your timing on the Bin Laden thing).  Later this week I hope to be seeing American wood warblers in Rock Creek Park with US birders.  I’m told this is about the best week in the year to see them and so I am keeping my fingers crossed.

I’ve read about Rock Creek Park.  The great Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher wrote of it in Wild America and Mike McCarthy wrote of it in the US edition of Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo.  If I get there, and if the technology works, I’ll be writing about it too.

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