Warbler Quest: II

To recap my last post, I had managed in the course of a day to inadvertently photograph 9 of the 18 warblers that breed in the Ozarks. Halfway home, I decided to make a concerted effort to find and photograph the remaining nine and quickly formulated a plan.

The first stop was easy: my yard. I have at least three Black-and-white Warblers that have established territories on my 17 acres of woodland. They sing their heads off every morning and this morning was no exception. I managed to photograph not one, but two of the three along with an unexpected Worm-eating Warbler.

My plan now led me to Blue Ridge Road, a Forest Service road that runs the three miles from C Highway to Skyline drive, following a ridge heavily forested with oak, hickory and pine. I drove slowly, with my windows down, listening for birdsong.

Less than a half-mile in, I heard the song of a Yellow-throated Warbler, one of the two I was listening for and potentially, the more difficult to locate. I pulled over and parked, walked back into the woods where this bird was singing repeatedly. I used playback and managed to bring him down from the upper reaches of the canopy, though this species does not typically respond aggressively.

He never did come down to my level, staying too high for a really good shot. But after following him for a while as he searched the foliage for insects, I managed a few shots, this being the best of the lot.

Another ½ mile down the ridge, right where the Ozark Trail crosses, is a good stand of Short-leaf Pine. Just what I was looking for. I walked fifty yards from the truck, hung my speaker on a limb, turned on playback and thirty seconds later I had a lovely photo of a Pine Warbler.

OK, I was running three for three so far and feeling confident. So naturally, the wheels came off my grand plan at this point.

I had hoped to pick up a Yellow Warbler at the Carter County Court House in Van Buren. The large, old maple trees there usually harbor one or two, but not this day. All I could find were Starlings, House Finches, House Sparrows and a Robin.

My backup spot was Watercress Recreation Area, also in Van Buren. Again, no luck, either for a Yellow Warbler or the Prothonotary that should have been hanging out along the spring branch/slough. There were American Redstarts all over the place, but I had photographed one of those the day before and didn’t improve over the shot I already had.

Most of my ill-placed confidence now gone, I headed to my next stop: the Cotton Farm/Sweezie Hollow in the Big Spring area of the Park. There’s a good-sized glade here where I hoped to find a Prairie Warbler, there are always Yellow-breasted Chat in the old overgrown field near the spray fields and I can usually find a Common Yellowthroat in the wet area near the creek.

The glade was overgrown, much more so than I had expected and much of the vegetation was sporting pointy things. I was wearing shorts, so I declined to climb up to the glade proper, but I tried calling a Prairie Warbler out to the road. Another strike out.

The good news was that I could hear a Yellow-breasted Chat making their goofy call from the back of the Park’s Fire Cache building. I headed in that direction, but got distracted by a Blue-winged Warbler that posed nicely for me. I know that I already had a Blue-winged, but this is a much better photo, so I have to include it.

Once I was through with the Blue-winged (and the Towhee and Brown Thrasher), I concentrated on the Chat. I used playback to pull him out of the locust, blackberry and buckbrush snarl he was hiding in and he posed repeatedly for me. Now we’re back on track, even though I didn’t get the Yellowthroat I had hoped for.

Moving on, I stopped at the slough that lays along the front side of the Big Spring boat landing. I walked a short distance into the bottom and parked my arse on a log. A Northern Parula showed up almost immediately and I got a much better shot that the one I posted earlier. A “repeat” bird, but it still made me feel better.

I also didn’t have to wait long before a Prothonotary was singing from a drift pile, 30 feet from where I was sitting. The light wasn’t fantastic, but that contributed to a nice background in most of the images. This was my favorite of several images I shot.

Alas, that was to be the last warbler of the day. I was out of places to look for Yellow Warblers and I couldn’t find either a Prairie Warbler or Common Yellowthroat at any of the three additional locations I visited.

I did hear a Yellowthroat at Big Tree where I looked unsuccessfully for a Swainson’s Warbler, but he unsurprisingly stayed in the grass and I never even saw him, much less got an opportunity for a photograph.

In my defense, I don’t think the Swainson’s had made it back to the area just yet. I checked eBird later and no one had reported a Swainson’s north of Arkansas, so I just don’t think they were here.

Still, I did manage to photograph another five species, bringing me to fourteen of the eighteen. I’d hoped to get all 18 in that one weekend, but it wasn’t to be. Not that I was giving up. It was simply time to regroup.

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