Warbler Quest: I

There are eighteen species of wood warblers that breed in the Ozarks. Most are common and widespread, but the Swainson’s is both few in number and restricted to a very particular habitat. A couple of the others aren’t necessarily easy to find either. After photographing half of those species in the course of a Saturday back in April, I decided to make a concerted effort to get the remaining nine. But I’m getting ahead of myself—let’s go back and start at the beginning.

Grubb Hollow is about two miles upstream of the southern boundary of Ozark Riverways. It’s also about 20 minutes from my house, so I tend to visit the area on a regular basis. Once you cross into the park, there’s about a mile of road before it dead ends at Cedar Spring. This fine morning, I pulled off the road just before the turn to the landing, about 8:00 a.m.

Before I could even get out of the truck, I noticed a small bird working the foliage low in the trees next to me. It was a Cerulean Warbler and he was kind enough to stay close by for a few minutes, allowing me to photograph him without getting out of the truck.

I thought that was a damned nice way to start the day and it quickly got even better. I finally got out of the truck and realized that along with an Ovenbird and an American Redstart, I was also hearing a Hooded Warbler singing close by. I tried using my phone to play his song back to him, but he didn’t respond. He kept singing though and I finally crept close enough to see him, but managed only a couple of really poor photos.

Once I’d lost the Hooded, I turned my attention to the Ovenbird, which was already right on top of me.  I only had to play his song once before he came to see who the intruder was. Unfortunately, the cover was so thick and the light so poor, I only got a few marginal photos.

There were Ovenbirds everywhere, with males singing every 200-300 yards along the road and I must have heard at least 7 or 8 birds. But I mostly left them alone and the photo above is the best I managed for the day.

I headed back to the road and quickly got on a Louisiana Waterthrush, singing loudly on the river side of the road. There’s a slough just off the road here, the waterthrush was working the edge of the water and I was on top a steep, twenty-foot bank above him. There was no way I was going down that bank, so I played his song back to him. I wasn’t expecting much because waterthrushes don’t typically respond well to playback, but this one came in like an enraged rhino.

I only used the playback for a couple of repetitions, but he was already stirred up, ignoring me as he looked for the intruder with the nerve to invade his territory. He posed nicely for me and I got several nice shots, then slipped back to the road, leaving him to his own devices.

I spent the next half hour distracted by some butterflies, a couple of dragonflies and a Snowberry Clearwing, which was working a patch of Dwarf Larkspur. Eventually, I made it back to the truck and drove on to Cedar Spring.

Cedar Spring is situated in a narrow band of forest bordered by the river on the east and a hayfield on the west. It’s open right around the camp area, but just upstream becomes quite tangled and brushy. There was an American Redstart showing off right next to where I’d parked and I finally managed to get a couple of useable shots.

Moving into the brush, I thought I might find another Hooded Warbler and I did see a yellow warbler with black on his head, but it was a Kentucky instead.

It was approaching noon by this point, so I drove home for lunch. I really wanted to find that Hooded Warbler again, so I talked Dayna into going back with me. The plan was to drive in to Cedar Spring and work our way back out, but as usual, I managed to get distracted. I stopped to photograph a Dwarf Iris but our attention quickly turned to a Wood Thrush (I love their song), a pair of Ovenbirds and 4 or 5 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks feeding on the blooms of a cottonwood.

We were about to get back in the truck, but I heard the buzz of a Worm-eating Warbler coming from down the road and somewhere above us on the hill. I really didn’t want to climb up to him (it was steep), so I called him down to us.

As soon as I had a couple of photos, we moved on along, this time making it all the way to Cedar Spring. There’s a canebrake upstream from the landing, in the edge of the field and I tried calling to see if there might be a Swainson’s hanging around, but nothing responded. We did find several Indigo Buntings and I spent some time working them, getting a few photos. I have a lot of photos of buntings, but I still can’t pass up the opportunity for more.

On the way out, we stopped and walked back into the woods where I’d seen the Hooded Warbler earlier. I figured I had nothing to lose by trying playback again and this time he responded. Once he was close, I turned the playback off and shot a few photos. Lighting conditions were less than ideal, but I got a couple of photos and Dayna got a life bird.

We decided to bop on over to Panther Spring before going home, looking to see if the Red Buckeyes were blooming and hoping to find a Northern Parula along Bear Camp Creek.

The buckeyes were indeed blooming and we quickly found a Parula, along with a bonus Blue-winged Warbler.

The creek crossing was impassable, a victim of the floods a couple of weeks back, so we couldn’t go on down to the river. We also couldn’t turn around because the road is three feet lower than the bank on either side and only wide enough for one vehicle. So it looked like we were going to have to back the truck a quarter-mile to the main road. But a section of bank that was sloped just enough presented itself and, with the benefit of 4-wheel drive, Dayna got the truck turned around and pointed in the right direction. We were both done by now, so we headed for the house.

It was later in the evening, as I was processing photos, that I realized I’d photographed nine species of warbler and decided to take a run at the other nine the next day. Now all I needed was a plan…

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