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The Very Common Yellowthroat

May 30, 2012
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After the ubiquitous-for-9-months-of-the-year Yellow-rumped Warbler, the most well known of the intoxicatingly diverse Parulids is undoubtedly Common Yellowthroat.  From sea to shining sea you can find the little bandito masked warbler in wet, weedy fields and cattail marshes for most of the breeding season.  It’s one of the first warblers to arrive down in these parts, and likewise one of the last to leave, and between those standards always the one you’re most likely to come across in the post-migration lull that lasts until the shorebirds come barreling back southward.

I’ve pretty much given up on spring migration for the year, save the off blunder into one of those late passing Empids, and the off chance for a Black-billed Cuckoo reported to eBird had me arriving at Eno River State Park, just west of Durham, aiming for something besides the ordinary, but my walk down a power line cut on the south side of the park placed me right in the middle of an angry Common Yellowthroat’s territory.  And it required very little pishing to work this little bird up to a lather, chucking at me with a fury from his multiflora rose hideout.

He was joined by his mate, more subdued, and less apt to get up in my face.  There had to be a nest nearby, maybe even chicks though it seemed early to me for migrants to be feeding young.

That question was answered when the male popped up again, this time with some sort of arthropod goodie in tow.  Birds don’t usually carry around food unless they have a place to carry it to, competition is fierce and the possibility of it getting janked is too high.  At this point I felt a little guilty for my intrusion, but the Yellowthroat seemed no worse for wear, continuing to offer the full range of angry vocalizations, this time with a full beak which I had to admit was pretty impressive.

At some point the food disappeared.  Either the bird had slipped away while I wasn’t paying attention, or it decided the food would be better fresher.  In any case, the bird’s attention never really left me, though it eventually stopped calling and resumed its foraging.

I admit I don’t always give Yellowthroats their due when I’m out birding.  Part of it is because they’re so very common, but a bigger part of it is because they can be maddening to see well when you actually want to see them.  They’re skulkers of the highest order in may of the places I bird regularly, nothing more than disembodies whitcheties from a dense stand of sedge or a willow thicket or a flash of olive green rocketing just over the grasses.  But having a camera makes me a better birder in that when I get this opportunity to spend a little time with a Common Yellowthroat, I’m more likely to take advantage of it.

They may be common, but they’re still pretty sharp little birds when you get a good look at them.

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