Parulidae, probably the most intimidating section of the field guide for any novice birder (I can definitely include myself among their ranks). It could be the fact that to most of us newbies all of the warblers look exactly the same, a small yellow bird that makes a beautiful song. What else is there to know? Even novice birders learn quickly that the eyes can be quite deceiving. This simple lesson was posed to me by a rather interesting question. “Tell me, what is the difference between birding and bird watching?”. When no answer came he responded with,” birding first requires ears before eyes, bird watching only requires eyes.” It is certain that you wont be able to find a 4.5’’ bird in the dense brush without listening first.
But I guess that is the hardest part of it, right? The fact of the matter is that there are so many sounds around us, how are we supposed sort through all of those calls and then match them with all of those charismatic little members of Parulidae? One of my mentors, Jason, says that the trick is to start with the most common birds in your area, memorize their distinctive calls and colors, and move outward from there. With a little study and field experience you will begin to tune out their calls and notice novel sounds and sights (sounds first in birding!) in your midst provided you are in a good place for action to take place.
My first warbler was a Louisiana Waterthrush. Sean and I had spent a whole morning trekking around in the SC turkey woods, enjoying the day, when we heard a song neither of us were familiar with (this isn’t saying much since both of us are novice birders). After tracing the melody to its creator, Sean dispiritedly says, “Oh, its only a Carolina Wren.” His conclusion was understandable because the small creature had white eyebrows. But as we know, sounds need to be consulted before any conclusions can be drawn. I’ll be the first to admit that I am still very green when it comes to birding, but the melodious sound and his hypothesis did not seem to fit. The brown chest streaks only added to my suspicion. I quickly look through my lens to take a few shots and better examine the bird for further consultation with my guide. My eyes revealed, after closer examination of my photographs, a shape I had only ever seen in my field guide, a warbler.(studying bird morphology in field guides and a good camera can aid you immensely in IDing birds by family on the wing). After comparing observations, we decided that the speckles and the shape seemed to match the Louisiana Waterthrush. We now only had to link the call to the suspect. Sean quickly pulled out his phone, and consulted youtube (technology can be a great tool for learning!). From his phone came the melody we had been listing to for the last 20 minutes. A giant grin spread across his face. BINGO, a match! We had both identified our first warbler!
Its funny what happens after you see your first warbler, every small bird starts to look yellow, and every yellow bird seems to warble. For me, they usually end up singing a sparrow song a sparrow. Warbler or not, I am always left smiling.
(All images included in this and other entries on this site were taken by and belong to me)
All Images © 2012 Brian Lang
All Rights Reserved