It was June 2012, and I was driving my ATV on a trail through a stand of young aspen trees on my dad's land in northern Minnesota, completely oblivious to the world of birds. At this point in time I was still an NB - a non-birder. That all changed when I heard an incredibly loud and beautiful bird song over the engine noise of the ATV. What was that? I was compelled to get off the ATV to investigate. It didn't take long to find the source. A bird with a bright yellow cap and rusty brown sides was perched just a few feet away in a small tree singing his friendly song for the whole world to hear. Wow! I raced back to the house and grabbed my dad's tattered Peterson field guide from the 1960s. The bird I saw was easy to find - the Chestnut-sided Warbler.
My new birder friend, Steve, called me to tell me that the warblers had finally arrived, and they were EVERYWHERE. We went to a small, wooded park in our prairie town in west-central Minnesota, and the trees were dripping with warblers. Every direction we looked held a new warbler lifer - Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped, Wilson's, Blackburnian, Northern Parula, Tennessee, American Redstart, Magnolia, Canada, Mourning, Palm, Golden-winged, Northern Waterthrush, Nashville, Ovenbird, Black-and-White, and many non-warbler lifers! The excitement was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. The pictures tell it better than I ever could:
So I planned a family camping trip to Temperance River State Park which is located on the North Shore of Lake Superior to hopefully find this bird. We got to the park late in the evening and almost instantly when we stepped out of the car we heard the buzzy "Zoo-zee-zoo-zoo-ZEE!" song of my target bird. Since I had to set up camp, I didn't have time to look that evening. Early the next morning, though, I was on the hunt. Within minutes I heard the song again and found that bird that had eluded me all spring.
|Black-throated Green Warbler|
As a family we made the 2.5 mile loop hike around the top of the mountain, which would just be considered a large hill in most states. Plenty of times we heard the distinctive "Zoo-zoo-ZEE!" song of the Black-throated Blue, but we just couldn't locate it. By this time my thirst for warblers had grown so much that I was determined to come back the next morning to find one. That next morning when I was hiking by myself I finally found my bird. It was so stunningly close that I nearly lost my breath as I fumbled for the camera. I could not get over how beautiful this bird was. It was a literal and figurative mountain-top experience.
|Black-throated Blue Warbler|
Not even home from our trip for a couple days, my six-year-old son and I hit the road to go find this hard-to-get warbler. Once at the site at this particular campground, we quickly heard the bird singing in the reported location, but we just could not locate it in the canopy. It was getting really frustrating. My son gave up to go play on the nearby playground, but I persevered. To occupy my time while I waited and watched, I pulled up the binoculars on anything that was a bird. One time I saw a bird that looked black and white halfway up the trees. It couldn't be the Cerulean. But it was! This blurry photo was the only one I got as I never saw the bird again. Though the picture is low quality, it is a treasure to me.
It was an unforgettable experience to see this old friend after over a decade and to go birding with him. It took us awhile to find the bird that had taken up residence at the state park, but eventually we found it. What a thrill it was to see the flash of that brilliant yellow throat!
|One of four juvenile Yellow-throated Warblers|
As I write this post and reflect back on all the warblers I've seen in my first year of birding, I still can hardly believe it all happened. I'm excited to see what fall migration brings and to try out The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle. And I've got my warbler targets for next summer already - Hooded, Kentucky, Blue-winged, and Prothonotary. I can't wait!
You can read a more detailed account of the stories above at the following links: