Posted May 19, 2020
Written by Mike Perrin
Spring migration is in full swing! One of my favorite bird families, the wood-warblers, are showing up to Massachusetts in big numbers! The wood-warblers, family Parulidae, consists of more than 50 species in the United States and over 30 species in Massachusetts alone. These small, lively birds can be seen foraging for bugs and caterpillars often in the tops of trees or in dense thickets. Many of the species of warblers look and sound very similar, with subtle field markings that tell them apart. This presents a challenge that birders pursue every spring with great effort, skill, and practice.
While in Wareham this past week, I encountered an uncommon warbler that I have only encountered a handful of times: the Nashville Warbler. The Nashville Warbler is a medium-sized warbler with a gray head, yellow throat and underparts, white belly patch, and a bold and complete white eyering. An eyering is exactly as it sounds, a ring around the eye, and is a very useful field marking to identify warblers. The males display rusty red crowns that are typically hard to see. Unlike many warbler species, the male and female plumage, or appearance, do not differ drastically.
After weather conditions made a fruitful-looking night for migration, I decided to bird Douglas S. Westgate Conservation Area early one morning. As soon as I arrived at the parking lot off of Papermill Road, I heard a song that grabbed my attention. The two-part song started in a neighboring yard and rang throughout the forest. See-bit-see-bit-see-bit-see-bit ti-ti-ti-ti. Eventually, a bird flew to the top of an oak tree between the lot and the yard and belted out the exact song. I raised my binoculars to my face and the zoomed-in look revealed yellow underparts, a gray head, and a white eye ring. This confirmed my assumption that the song was a Nashville Warbler, and this was my first good look of the year. Photos of this exact individual are attached.
Since Wareham is just below the southern extent of the Nashville Warbler’s breeding range, this male was likely only passing through during migration on his way to breeding grounds in northern New England. General habitat requirements include secondary-growth mixed species forest with an open canopy. More specifically, according to the Birds of North America Journal, the Nashville Warbler prefers to breed in scrubby oak forest in Massachusetts, which does not reflect the habitat at Westgate Conservation Area. Since the individual was singing his heart out which is exhibiting breeding or territorial behavior, I will continue to check this parking lot for the Nashville Warbler to see if it stays in the yard.
The next day, I had a very similar experience at Tweedy and Barnes Conservation Area. As I stood outside my car in the parking lot, I heard “see-bit-see-bit-see-bit-see-bit ti-ti-ti-ti” from across Blackmore Pond Road. I could not believe it, the second time in two days! This time, the song was coming from tall pines, so still not promising breeding grounds. Tweedy and Barnes has a small section of scrubby pine and oak forest that borders secondary-growth forest, so I feel as though this could be a higher chance for breeding potential. I will continue to check up on this bird as well.
Since I only moved to the South Coast (specifically New Bedford) in September, I am still learning the spring migrants that might pass through Wareham. Though the Nashville Warbler shows up annually in Plymouth County, it’s relative sparsity makes it an exciting find.
May is a wonderful month to get out and watch birds. Birds are moving through Wareham and the South Coast in big numbers, so keep an eye to the sky (and thickets)! If you see an interesting or unfamiliar bird, feel free to send photographs, recordings, or descriptions to our bird nerd, Mike Perrin, by emailing Stewardship@WarehamLandTrust.org. Please note field markings like color pattern, presence of wingbars and eyerings, and behaviors and habitats. Happy birding!