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My Life’s Birds: #393

May 12, 2010
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April 15, 2006 – Duke Forest, Orange Co, NC – I’ve written before about the subtle but amazing differences between the migration routes that pass over my childhood home in Missouri and my new home in North Carolina and the way those differences manifest themselves on the regular spring morning’s birding.  It continues to be the main thread that runs through the weekly conversations tallying the weekend’s haul that I have with my dad, who’s still back in the Midwest.  I find myself jealous of his Nashville and Mourning Warblers, of his apparently easily found Cerulean Warblers not 20 miles from the place I grew up, and I, in turn, can brag about Cape Mays every fall and Black-throated Blues so thick their buzzing turns to background noise.  Fair is fair after all.

Living in the Southeast United States also puts one square in the middle of many of the US’s southernmost nesting warblers, a group of birds that generally reach the farthest west extent of their range in Missouri.  Ranges are usually depicted, somewhat misleadingly, in bird books as a swath of uniform color from end to end, but it’s probably better to think of them as a loose bullseye.  The middle of the range has the highest concentration of nesting birds radiating out in concentric circles to the margins, and your odds of coming across a bird on a given day should be adjusted accordingly.  As far as the birds are concerned, those edges are the frontier.

So I guess that’s why, in several years of birding the Missouri Ozarks, I never came across a Hooded Warbler whereas in North Carolina it was only a matter of time.  And for me, it was when I took my wife and mother-in-law to Duke Forest for a bird walk (which, now that I think on it, might be the very last time my wife went on a birding walk with me).  Now that I’ve been in the area for some years I know that Duke Forest doesn’t really start hopping until the first part of May, but a visit in April is good for one thing, a multitude of singing Hooded Warblers, and not 150 meters into the walk, following a sing I was then unfamiliar with, we found our first.

I’m fairly lucky to be able to remember my first encounter with such a striking bird so well.  The bird practically glowed from within the understory.  The black hood was immaculate, a jet black frame for the yellow face, drawing all attention to its megaphone voice.  There’s a lot to be said for the elaborate patterns of some of the other warblers, but I tend to be drawn to the simple ones rendered in large blocks of primary colors.  They must appeal to my left-brained, color inside the lines sensibilities.  And now, even if the sheer novelty of Hoodies has worn off a bit by our annual reunion, they’re still a stop the presses bird once you’ve got one in your field of view.

That, in fact, never gets old.  And neither does bragging about it to my dad.

HOOWAR by iseethelight via flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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5 Comments
  1. Greg permalink
    May 12, 2010 8:58 am

    Actually, I’ve seen many Hooded Warblers this spring. We just never ventured very far when you were a kid. Found out later that they are abundant on the Eleven Point River at Greer Spring, and common on Red Bridge Road in the Mark Twain National Forest just south of here.
    But then, there’s that Cape May! Actually there have been 2-3 reports in western Missouri this spring, one on the Saturday GOAS trip to Busiek State Forest! I’ve spent the last two mornings down there at the parking lot hoping it shows again. Only consolation yesterday was 18 warbler species, including a Cerulean that sang the whole time, a Wood Thrush, a Yellow crowned Night Heron, and an Olive sided Flycatcher, all from the general vicinity of the parking lot.
    Still, that Cape May remains out of reach! not even talking Black throated Blue as a possibility, but I suppose one of these days………..

  2. Nate permalink*
    May 12, 2010 9:13 am

    @Dad- Ah, see. The narrative doesn’t work nearly as well when you start seeing Hoodies all the time. I still see them far more often I imagine, and only a few miles from home too.

    Olive-sided Flycatcher is another nice one that is very rarely seen in NC.

    • Greg permalink
      May 12, 2010 3:50 pm

      Well, you tell the truth for the times. Hooded was a very big deal! GOAS birders simply did not find them back then! Many in the group have improved their awareness of habitat and migration dates and patterns tenfold since then.

  3. May 13, 2010 12:08 am

    Man, Hooded Warbler is the one really bad miss I’ve had this spring. Do they stick around anywhere in the summer?

  4. Nate permalink*
    May 13, 2010 12:07 pm

    @Robert- They nest at any of the Duke Forest tracts and at Mason Farm, you can usually hear them singing into the summer at both places though they do get harder to see as the summer wears on. I usually have my best luck actually seeing them in the fall.

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