Caption: the Kentucky warbler, a woodland species that is becoming exceedingly rare in Mecklenburg County.
On April 18 I met some local birders at a site off Harrisburg Road to look for some incoming migrants and nesting behaviors for the Breeding Bird Atlas. It was a warm morning that promised new birds that had ridden the southerly winds from the night before.
We were soon rewarded. A beautiful male blue grosbeak called and sang from last year’s pokeweed stalk. A male common yellowthroat sang from a clump of grass right under the grosbeak. Savannah sparrows flushed up from the weedy field and stopped to check us out from the tops of blackberry canes. Field sparrows’ songs seemed to come from every direction, and it was evident that a good flight of white-eyed vireos had occurred overnight as well.
We started in the field, but my main destination was the rich deciduous slopes interior on the site. Here I hoped to find the Kentucky warbler, a woodland species that is becoming exceedingly rare in Mecklenburg County.
These yellow birds with a partial black facial mask used to be fairly common on wooded slopes over the larger creeks in the county, but it is a species that is sensitive to human activity. Consequently, habitat loss or degradation has greatly affected their local numbers.
In the forest, red-eyed vireos sang from the treetops while a Louisiana waterthrush sang from the creek bottom. And then a Carolina wren sang about a hundred yards away – or was it something else? Another round of song and it was clear; it was almost right for the Carolina wren, but different. It was the Kentucky warbler.
These birds are skulkers, and I did not expect to get a good look, but after some stealthy skulking of our own, three pairs of eyes were eventually able to pick out the singing but otherwise motionless bird in the mid-canopy.
It cooperated for a few minutes, then flew to the ground and out of sight. It was a life bird for the other birders, and it is always a treat for me to see one. It is my favorite warbler.