Monday, August 18, 2014

Things I Found While looking for Other Things

I was concentrating on butterflies yesterday while participating on the Southern Lake Norman Butterfly Count. Three of us were on a shaded trail through a damp thicket at Cowan’s Ford Wildlife Refuge trying to sort out pearly-eye butterflies when a loud, rich, chip note; like the sound of loudly kissing the back of your hand; snapped me back into birding mode. “Did I hear that right?” I wondered. I really needed to hear it again, and in a few seconds it was repeated. I was ninety-five percent sure of what I was hearing but I needed to see that bird to be sure.
I quit searching for Kentucky warblers in Mecklenburg County around mid-June. From mid-April until then I figured I had spent around ten hours exclusively devoted to finding that species in the county. I visited all the traditional nesting sites, both recently known and from up to twenty-five years ago with no success. It was a species I had counted on in my quest to see two-hundred and five species of birds in the county in 2014, but I had conceded defeat on that one.
All three of us scanned the thick underbrush, me frantically, for movement. “I see it” someone said. “It’s a yellow bird.”  I knew then it was my Kentucky warbler, and then the bright yellow chunky warbler hopped up on a tangle, turned its head perfectly for me to see the black mustache, and then was gone. Thank goodness butterfliers use binoculars.
I had never seen a Kentucky warbler in fall migration until that day. They leave the breeding territories by August and slip through most areas while it’s still too hot for most birders to be out looking for migrants.  It served as a reminder that migrants are coming through right now, and to add emphasis to that point, we saw a female hooded warbler and a worm-eating warbler in the close proximity.

Kentucky warblers are one of my favorite birds and I have lamented their decline in Mecklenburg county as a breeder. This individual may have come from somewhere far away but it does give me hope that perhaps it was from an unknown local territory. What is certain is that it was present in Mecklenburg yesterday and I got to see it. 

Kentucky warbler by Phil Fowler

Female hooded warbler by Jeff Lewis

Worm-eating warbler by Jeff Lewis