Sunday 1 May 2011

Dodgy warbler photography

One of the main attractions of Texas for a birding holiday was the glittering array of north American wood-warblers that pass through in spring – surely one of the most attractive families of birds in the world. We weren’t disappointed, with great views of a wide variety of species along the coast at well-known sites like Boy Scout Wood, Smith Oaks, Sabine Woods and South Padre Island. However, at all of these, photography was pretty challenging: warblers are almost constantly on the move, through dense vegetation, shaded from very strong sunlight!

Fortunately, one of the species I particularly wanted to see showed very well at South Padre Island: Northern Parula. The first two images are of a female, while the third looks like an adult male, complete with eyeliner!


Other species were not quite so obliging, but they’re such superb birds, I feel compelled to show you the photos anyway!


American Redstart – stunning!


Bay-breasted Warbler – one of the scarcer species at High Island


Chestnut-sided Warbler


Magnolia Warbler – although this shot doesn’t do it justice, this was probably my favourite Dendroica


Prothonotary Warbler – we completely missed these on coastal passage, but found one easily in a breeding area inland


Yellow-throated Warbler – several times I picked this species up by song, sounding a bit like a Willow Warbler


OK, not a warbler… but White-eyed Vireos were another regularly seen (and even more regularly heard) passerine while warbler-hunting


And finally, one more warbler and one more vireo: this time, speciality breeding birds in the Hill Country. The entire world breeding population  of Golden-cheeked Warbler (estimated at just 21,000 individuals) lies within the boundaries of Texas, dependant on habitat rich in ashe juniper and live oaks. Walking the East Trail at Lost Maples, we had no trouble finding at least 10 singing males, some showing pretty well (though again, better to watch than photograph!)


Also at Lost Maples, we found a pair of Black-capped Vireos on the plateau. These birds favour dense scrubby bushes with scattered trees, and although vocal, tend to remain hard to see. They’re thought to be even rarer than the Golden-cheeks, with a world population of 8,000 individuals breeding from Texas into Mexico.


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