The Tale Of Two Warblers

The Minister Creek Overlook – Allegheny National Forest

This past weekend I did a trip into the heart of the Allegheny National Forest (ANF). If you have never heard of this place it is located in north western PA and encompasses the counties of Warren, McKean, Forest and Elk. This forest is huge!! It is 513,000 acres (801 Sq. miles). You could easily spend weeks here and still not be able to explore all this place has to offer. This is a map showing where it is located in the state of Pennsylvania.

It is also home to many of the northern breeding birds. With such vast forest and pristine wilderness it has very high concentrations of many species of birds that call this place home for the summer. You can find close to 20 species of warblers that breed here along with many other birds such as Winter Wren, Northern Goshawk, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Swainsons Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Blue-headed Vireo, Dark-eyed Junco, just to name a few. Some of these birds are super common here while others are quite rare. The birder that I am, I’m always on the lookout for those rare species. I came across tons upon tons of awesome warblers and birds, however only two cooperated nicely for pictures. ┬áThe one was a very common and abundant warbler of these forest while the other was a prized find! I’ll start with the one that is very common.

This is the very abundant Black-throated Green Warbler. Just because they are super common, doesn’t mean they are any less attractive. They are actually stunning birds. With an extensive jet black throat, a green back, a mostly Yellow head and bold white wing bars, they leave most birders in ooh and aahs at their beautiful sight.

This BTG posed nearly flawlessly for me as he hopped from one branch to another. These warblers prefer mostly coniferous forests but I will often find them in a mix of deciduous and conifers. They particularly seem to love the hemlock stands.

This is the kind of typical forest habitat where your likely to find one of these warblers in the ANF.

Like most of the song birds, it’s easiest to find these birds by first hearing and identifing their song. Their primary song goes “zee zee zee zo zay” which they usually sing when they are in the middle of their territory and trying to attract a mate. Their secondary song goes “zee zo zo zo zay” which they tend to sing more on the edge of their territory and sing it to defend against other intruding males.

If you don’t have the opportunity to get these guys on their breeding territory, don’t worry as they are also a very commonly seen warbler in both the spring and fall migration where you can find them nearly anywhere in woodlands during those times.

The other warbler I got that is much more rarer and difficult to find was the Mourning Warbler. It was by far my prized find for the day!

I’ve only seen these warblers a handful of times and this might be the best photo I’ve ever got of one. They prefer a very different kind of habitat compared to the BTG Warbler. They like clear cuts in the forest and need lots of thick brush where they like to keep under cover. They also love brushy areas that have raspberry and blackberry entanglements, so that is good to look for when trying to locate one of these warblers. This is the road where I found this one which you can see how much more of an open area it is.

I was driving down this road and it looked to me like prime habitat for the Mourning Warbler. So I pulled over to the side of the road, stopped the car and just listened from the window. Immediate I heard a Chestnut-sided Warbler singing along with a Catbird, Towhee and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. I gave it a little more time and all of a sudden down a little ways in the thick brush I heard the unmistakable song of the Mourning!! So now I knew one was there, now if I can only see him! I slowly approached where I heard the song come from and I spotted a little bird in the brush playing peek a boo with me. It was him!!!

They always seem like very shy birds so I gave him a little time and slowly he came out from hiding a little more.

This was the bird I had really been hoping for, over all the others so getting to see this beautiful bird was a pure delight. Eventually with a little patience he came out for an even better view.

It is estimated that only 10% of the total Mourning Warbler population breeds in the US, so the vast majority go further north into Canada. Needless to say it is a great bird to find breeding here in my home state of PA. Eventually this bird cooperated very nicely for me and I got him here pretty close!

This little guy was the highlight of my day. And it was another great day back into the north woods of the mighty Allegheny National Forest.

Birds of the Grasses.

Henslow’s Sparrow near Sligo, PA

If you read my last post you saw that I really love focusing on the warblers in the spring and summer, but another favorite of mine are the grassland species. These are birds that inhabit grasslands of vast open meadows and often brushy reclaimed strip mine areas. Birding this kinds of habitat you can rack up your vast array of sparrow species as well as lots of other cool birds. Here are some of my favorite birds that love to call the high grasses their home.

The Savannah Sparrow is a handsome bird that resembles closely a Song Sparrow but they have thinner, more crisp stripes on their underside and most have a wash of yellow above the eye.

The Grasshopper Sparrow is one of the less striped of the sparrow species but still a very dapper bird with their buffy colored chest and beautiful markings on the back. Like many of the sparrows they have a very distinct song which goes: “titi-zeeeeeeee” and probably could easily be confused with an insect sound.

The Henslow’s Sparrow might be my favorite grassland sparrow. They are quite rare for most of my home state in PA but they can be found in good abundance at certain spots. A very beautiful bird and another that sound more like an insect rather than a bird with their quick “tis-lick” call.

This is the same bird singing his heart out.

The Clay-colored Sparrow is the rarest breeding sparrow in my home state and there are only a few spots (that I know of) throughout the state where they can be found breeding. Needless to say they are a thrill to find. They make a very long drawn out “buzzzzzz, buzzzzz” call.

Prairie Warblers can also be found in grassland habitat but are often found in more brushy areas with small stands of trees. I always seem to have great luck getting these beauties to pose for me.

Dickcissels are a very irregular visitor to Pennsylvania but every so many years some will show up. This summer many have been found throughout the state and I was fortunate to see this one outside of Derry, PA recently.

The Eastern Meadowlark is a fairly abundant grassland bird but since they always stay in the high grass, your best chance to see them is when they take flight or perch on a fence post or wire.

The Bobolink may be the most unique looking of the grassland birds. They have been described as wearing a tuxedo but in reverse as their back side has lots of white marking while they are solid black on the front. Amazing singers of a rich, electrical sounding song.

The Eastern Kingbird, a type of flycatcher is a common bird of grasslands but can be found in many open habitats and they really love being near ponds or lakes.

The Upland Sandpiper is a type of shorebird, however they are never found anywhere near any shores but rather inhabit high grassy Meadows. A bird that unfortunately has greatly declined in population so it is always a delight to find.

Last but definitely not least is the mighty Northern Harrier. This bird of prey keeps all the other grassland birds on their toes and is always on the lookout to grab one for its next tasty meal. Most Harriers go north to breed but some can be found throughout the state where they spend the summer and breed.

All of these photos were taken this spring, except for the Upland Sandpiper which I got several years ago. My favorite place to catch the grassland birds are the areas around Sligo, Pa which includes: Piney Tract (Mt. Zion Rd.), Mt. Airy and the Curllsville Strips.


The Warblers!! Spring 2017

If you follow me on Facebook and see my posts (especially in the spring time) you’ll probably notice that one of my favorite birds are the warblers! They in my opinion are some of the most beautiful and stunning birds on the planet and many make an incredible journey each year where they spend the winter in South America and migrate up to North America for the breeding season. The first Warblers for the year arrive in my home state of Pennsylvania in early April and the rest continue to migrate north through the middle of May. Some will stay in PA for the breeding season, while some continue their journey north to the boreal forests of Canada. So pretty much between April through June, I go into warbler mode, and focus my attention on finding and photographing these amazing little birds. Ask any bird photographer and everyone will agree they are extremely challenging birds to snap pix of. Most are around 5 inches in length and most are very hyper active little birds and don’t sit still for more than a second or two. Many also love the high canopy of deep forest so just getting a close glimpse of one is rewarding. A lot goes into getting photos of warblers – patience, skill and lots of luck!! Here are some species I managed to get this spring season.

Yellow-throated Warbler

Louisiana Waterthrush

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Northern Parula

Hooded Warbler

Cerulean Warbler

American Redstart

Black-throated Green Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Black and White Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

Prairie Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Blue-winged Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Canada Warbler


All of these photos were taken in Western Pennsylvania.