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An Early Warbler in March!

March 29, 2014

Louisiana Waterthrush

It’s true that it’s spring now, but early spring here in central Ohio often isn’t free of winter influence- for instance, there’s a thin coating of snow on the ground this evening.  And yet, a week ago, a warbler showed up here.  Not a Yellow-Rumped Warbler which sometimes winters over here by eating berries, but an honest-to-goodness early spring neotropical migrant.  Now that’s news!

Through the wonders of the internet, birders were alerted to the presence of this bird on March 22nd at an area park.  As of yesterday, it was still being seen, which means it made it through some cold nights that froze the watery places where it has been hanging out.  This bird is resilient and can take some cold weather, funny since it wintered as far south as tropical Colombia in South America.

The day after it was originally reported, I went in search of this bird.  It was hanging about foraging in vernal pools in a patch of woodland in Glacier Ridge Metro Park.

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It was cool and blustery when I walked through the park, an hour or so before sunset.

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Early spring sometimes looks more like late autumn or late winter here in central Ohio.

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This is a vernal pool, which is a rather fancy name for a temporary pond, usually found in the spring before the dryer summer weather sets in.  These ponds are devoid of fish but contain many other types of life, including insects, frogs and salamanders.  I’ll do a post on them one of these days!

A few other birds hung around this area.

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This Rusty Blackbird sang its squeaky song

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A pair of Song Sparrows hid in the thickets- they were hard to see

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This Eastern Phoebe stopped by, looking for insects and swooping low over the water

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Suddenly, a bird ran across a log, bobbing its tail vigorously.  This was the bird I was looking for!

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This is a Louisiana Waterthrush, a New World warbler that was far ahead of the many warblers to follow in April and May:

A bird of forest streams, the Louisiana Waterthrush looks more like a thrush or sparrow than the warbler it is. It can be recognized by its loud ringing call and constant bobbing of its tail.

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I held still and took many photos of this early bird as it foraged through the wet patches of ground.  This species is usually not seen here until mid-April.

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You can see by the way it rocked its body that it vigorously bobbed its tail up and down.  This is a key behavior of waterthrushes.

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Here the bird tosses a leaf aside, looking for things to eat beneath it.  It likes insects and small crustaceans.

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If you look closely, you’ll see something tasty that the bird has found in its beak.  Note the bold eye stripe, streaked breast, and brown back- it looks almost like a small thrush (but the eye stripe is a strong hint that it is something else).

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A Fox Squirrel chattered at me a bit when it spotted me.  The bird spotted me and flew off a ways, making a loud distinctive clicking call.  It gradually came back, and I held as still as I could.

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Waterthrushes, unlike many other warblers, prefer to feed upon the ground.  Another interesting fact is that it has been seen taking occasional daytime naps.

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Here. the bird lunges swiftly for a morsel of food.

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I was very happy to get fairly close shots of this bird, and I took great care not to spook it- it needed the food more than I needed more pictures, especially with the cold nights coming up.  It made it through the next few cold nights just fine, indicating that it was finding a good amount of food in the vernal pool area.

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Lastly, I thought I’d leave you with an image of another Louisiana Waterthrush that I saw a couple years ago in late May.  It was singing on territory in a wooded ravine with a trickle of water running through it, perfect territory for this species.  It is more often heard than seen once the trees are fully leafed out.  Perhaps the bird pioneer I saw last week will raise a family nearby, like this one did.

It’s still chilly out there, but the early bird migrants are showing up.  Keep an eye out for these hardy individuals!

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. March 29, 2014 11:16 pm

    That’s a species that I’ve yet to see. Thanks for the great post and photos so that I’ll know what I’m looking for!

    • March 29, 2014 11:21 pm

      They’re tougher to see when they’re singing on territory in the leafy forest- this individual was a few weeks early on migration!

  2. March 29, 2014 11:48 pm

    So beautifully captured! And the video just drags you into the beauty of the moment 🙂

  3. March 30, 2014 7:15 am

    Nice shots of a rather illusive bird!

  4. March 30, 2014 9:40 am

    I hope you do post on the other life in a vernal pond someday. One year the land behind our vacation cabin flooded quite deep–we actually had ducks swimming in it, but I never knew that there might be anything other than birds taking advantage of it…

    • March 30, 2014 11:25 am

      I keep hoping to find neat things in vernal pools to photograph, Inger, but they are hard to spot in the daytime!

  5. March 30, 2014 10:54 am

    This bird is all the buzz on the Listserv. Very nice pictures

    • March 30, 2014 11:26 am

      Thanks Les- it’s crazy early for a waterthrush, but it got through some nights that dipped down into the teens temperature-wise!

  6. March 30, 2014 11:29 am

    What a beautiful little bird. You did a great job following it with your lens as it foraged for food.

  7. March 30, 2014 8:57 pm

    The Song Sparrows blend really well into the thicket. Nice video of the Louisiana Waterthrush.

    • March 30, 2014 9:39 pm

      I had a hard time seeing the Song Sparrows, Patti- the video was nice, though I have to say that it wasn’t mine 🙂

  8. April 1, 2014 6:13 am

    Excellent photos of a gorgeous little bird! It sounds as if spring has finally arrived with you.

  9. April 1, 2014 1:57 pm

    You are so lucky to see these birds now, I can’t wait! It shouldn’t be too much longer, hopefully. Great photos as usual!

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