Nashville Warbler Underside – Field Notes

Since Saturday’s weather was lousy for photos, and I didn’t get any decent ones Sunday, I’ll go with field notes from the weekend concerning Nashville Warbler Underside pattern.

I have previously covered this topic and with migration getting into swing, now is a good time to review. Especially since I personally haven’t done it lately…

Saturday morning while out with Mike, I spotted a small bird that never gave a good overall look. The view was from below and not for long. I’ll make a disclaimer I did see one other ID which I’ll discuss later.

First off, I was pretty sure it was a warbler with an outside shot at being a vireo.

The underside pattern from head to tail:

  1. Bright Yellow throat and onto the breast.
  2. White Belly.
  3. Bright Yellow undertail coverts.
The underside color pattern was basically bright yellow, white, bright yellow. The yellow parts were almost the same portion but the white was a little less. Maybe a 35%, 30%, 35%. distribution

With an unique pattern I thought the ID would have been straight forward. On to Sibleys – Eastern North America for a quick look to confirm. Or so I thought.

A quick look through the vireos didn’t produce a match. And a quick run through the warblers didn’t either. So a slower look was in order.

What we missed was Nashville Warbler underside matches that description but the drawing doesn’t show as much white as I saw on the belly. We simple overlooked it. But as far as I can tell it is the only Eastern Warbler matching that pattern.

Nashville Warbler Underside
Sorry to say I don’t have a photo of a Nashville Warbler showing what I’m discussing. The white on the bird Saturday had white extending up into the breast. By Dave Menke, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – This image originates from the National Digital Library of the United States Fish and Wildlife Serviceat

Now back to the disclaimer. I had the advantage of seeing a bright eye ring. But I didn’t want to use until I was sure from the underside pattern.

Review Warbler Underside Patterns 

Now is the time. I’ll once again reference the chart shown in the first sentence post. It’s from Dunn and Garrett’s Warblers. Taking 15 minutes with it will pay dividends in the field. The other thing is to go through your favorite field guide and look for the underside patterns. There are a few unique patterns that are distinguishable but knowing which are yellow or white, or darker tail colors, will help eliminate species in the field.

I also recommend writing down each underside color and tail patterns. As I wrote in two articles – article one and two – research has shown by writing things down it will help you retain it.

Vested Yellow-rumped Warbler – Field Notes

I’m still fooled by birds, especially when they aren’t in their proper clothing. And this time of year is when I’m fooled most. Especially by winter birds turning into their summer clothes. This was the case the last weekend when I was in doubt over a couple of vested Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Walking through Atterbury’s woods a pair of birds kept showing only straight-on head shots or slightly from the side. Small, grayish birds with pointed faces.

This cropped photo gives the idea of the pointed faces. The birds were darker and the lightening worse than this photo.

The birds kept working their way through the trees keeping very quiet. Not helping me there. Then they started to show a glimpse of a dark vest, similar to an Olive-sided Flycatcher.

The birds appeared to have a vest similar to an Olive-sided Flycatcher. Atterbury FWA June 2014

I kept wracking my brain what it could be??

My thoughts were of … Maybe Cerulean Warbler since these birds appeared bluish in the light. Though the habitat was correct it was too early in the spring. And they were more dark than blue.

An early Eastern Wood-Pewee with a deep vest? Doubtful.

Finally one of the birds turned and showed a yellow rump.

Vested Yellow-rumped Warbler!

How could I have been fooled?

Since I didn’t get a photo last weekend I didn’t think I’d write this post. But looking back I had photos of Yellow-rumped Warblers from the same weekend last year showing the vest.

A few paragraphs ago I stated being unsure because of bad lighting and poor looks. But the truth is I didn’t remember or didn’t know Yellow-rumped Warblers wear a heavy, dark vest this time of year.

So how was I fooled?

Probably becasue I’m use to seeing Yellow-rumped Warblers in their winter garb before they head north. They are much lighter colored and show just a hint of a vest.

A Yellow-rumped Warbler in December. Not much of a vest.
Another winter bird. A light vest.
Vested Yellow-rumped Warbler
A shot of the bird from last April showing the heavy vest.

Another tidbit of information to put in my memory. And I wasn’t fooled this weekend.

Natural History First Tree

This post is a personal to start keeping track of my Natural History first tree. As previously stated I’m going to start learning other Natural History objects to compliment birding. And this past week I identified my first tree.

A few weekends ago Mike pointed out several trees which could be identified mainly by their bark. With that experience and trying to identify leafless trees in my “backyard”, I’ve decided to wait a few weeks for trees to leaf before attempting to ID those trees.

So the first tree I identified is an evergreen with needle-leaves. And like birding there are steps to identifying trees. The process looked easier with an evergreen so I started there. Plus there was no need to wait for the leaves.

I’m using two sources to identify trees. Peterson’s Field Guides Eastern Trees by George A. Petrides and Janet Weir and The Tree Identification Book by George W.D. Symonds. I decided on those for a couple of reasons and after I use them for a few months I’ll give each a review. All I’ll say for now is I can tell each has strong and weak points.

Following is how I identified my first tree.

First Steps to Tree ID

  1. First step is to determine which of the categories listed in the guide the tree falls under. In this case it’s obviously a tree with needle like leaves.
  2. Are the needles growing in clusters or singularly? The needles appear to be growing in clusters. This means it is a Pine. I have identified it down to the genus level.
  3. Clusters of 2, 3, or 5? In this case the clusters are in groups of 5. A cluster of 5 needles narrows it down to an Eastern White Pine. My first ID!!
  4. Now to verify.
    1. How long are the needles? 3-5″? Yes- 4″.
    2. Cone – 4-8″? Yes 5″.
    3. Bark not scaly with deep furrows? Yes, to my untrained eye.Natural History first tree

So that’s the process. With a leafed tree it appears the process will be harder.

I haven’t double checked this ID with anyone so please let me know if I’m in error.

Virginia Rail Grunting – Weekend Highlight

In my last post I ended by stating I’d use Wilson’s Snipe as an example of something I think is a bigger problem. That post isn’t ready yet but it will address the lack of fresh water marshes. Since I love marshes and I had Friday off, I headed to one of two I know locally. And I was rewarded with both a Sora calling and a Virginia Rail grunting.

Friday morning’s birding at Atterbury FWA was broken into two habitats, heavy woods and open grasslands walking to the marsh. Both areas are close together so in total I didn’t cover more than a mile in the whole morning.

The Woods

The woods produced several FOY species but little in the way of photos. Though I heard numerous Yellow-throated Warblers none where ever out in the open. The surprise of the day was a Nashville Warbler in the brush as I was viewing a White-throated Sparrow.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers seemed to be every in the woods.
And Northern Parulas were calling all along the river road.

Has happens every year I forget the call of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Luckily more than one was calling so I got to hear it often.


To access the marsh one must walk along woods and through a grassland area.

The marsh is out there beyond the tall Sycamore.

After exiting the woods I was momentarily stymied by a call. A simple loud call from the grass. It took a minute but it finally dawned it was a Henslow’s Sparrow. On the day I would hear six in the area.

A usually secretive Henslow’s Sparrow was out calling on territory.

The Wetland – Virginia Rail Grunting

I needed to check the rails since the next few weekends will have early Turkey Season and the off road areas are closed until after 1PM. I have only heard a couple Virginia Rails at this marsh so I wasn’t hopeful.

The area I listen for rails is down and to the left, a couple hundred yards away.
Swamp Sparrows were great company while waiting to hear any rails call.

I arrived at the listening spot and played one Sora recording. Immediately a Sora replied with its descending call. And then it was time to wait. I have learned if a Virginia Rail is going to call it will take a few minutes after the recording. I learned this last year when they called as was leaving. Since then I wait 5-10 minutes and see what happens.

To capture the call I turned on the camera’s video/audio and waited. The following came at minute 6 of the recording, which shows how long it takes the Virginia Rail to respond. I was preparing to leave when I finally heard the call. So the static in the first few seconds are me preparing to walk.

Turn up your volume and listen. The Virginia Rail grunting starts at 8 seconds.

VIRA Atterbury

After lunch the temperature was approaching 80F and the birds were quieting down. A leisurely walk at Johnson County Park produced a couple of FOY birds.

virginia rail grunting
An Eastern Kingbird was a surprise. I thought they were still a week or so away from arriving.
Not a FOY but I liked the color on this American Kestrel.

Wilson’s Snipe Photos – Finally

Don’t be fooled by the title. I have many Wilson’s Snipe photos. Just not Wilson’s Snipe photos from the local only marshy area. Snipe have been present for the last couple of years at the marsh. But never out in the open long enough for a photo. Until Sunday.

Saturday started out with Mike and me heading to Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow. With Mike’s help I spent much of the time learning to ID several trees from their bark. The birding was typical for the habitat and time of year, meaning it was quiet at times. We did hear two Louisiana Waterthrush and I saw my yearly Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Sunday morning I went to the marsh area with express purpose of checking on the Wilson’s Snipe and any other shorebirds/waterfowl present.

Within the first minute of walking upon the marsh a Wilson’s Snipe flew in and landed in an opening. If I would have been prepared I would have had a photo right off the bat. But it proceeded to walk into the thick grass and when I moved it flushed to the far side. So I began the process of checking all the open areas for snipe.

The cat and mouse game would proceed over the next couple hours with snipe flying in and out but never where I could photograph one.

In between hoping to see the snipe, an Eastern Meadowlark landed nearby.
A pair of Savannah Sparrows were buzzing around chasing each other with one eventually landing.

Finally Wilson’s Snipe Photos 

I kept watch on the far shore hoping a snipe would walk out in to the open. After a couple of hours one finally appeared.

First I was watching a Solitary Sandpiper move along the edge.
Then a movement in the tall grass. Could it be? Yes, a Wilson’s Snipe.
By luck they both ended up in the same photo.
Not the best of photos but it shows it’s definitely a Wilson’s Snipe.
Wilson's Snipe Photos
Probably the best photo on the day. It at least captures some of the snipe’s bright barring.

I’ll follow-up this post up using Wilson’s Snipe as an example of something I think is a bigger problem.

Western Colorado Final Thoughts – Dec16

It’s been four months since my December Colorado trip. And I’ll be going again in two months to run two BBS Routes. Even though I have enough photos for a few more posts it’s time to wrap it up and present my Western Colorado final thoughts.

Like other trips I’ll do a final post on thoughts from the trip. And like those reports these are in no order.

A Western-Screech Owl keeps a watchful eye at Grand Junction Wildlife Area.
  1. Early December is probably not the best time to go birding in Western Colorado if you’re after a large species count. But since I wanted to check out the BBS routes and I had the time, I went. Plus, as I have stated it is going to be one of three areas I hope to come to know and bird repeatedly.
  2. Next time I’m flying direct. For an extra $200 I can fly direct into Grand Junction and pick up an extra day of birding.  On future summer trips I might fly into Denver and bird my way across the state. But on winter trips I’ll fly direct and not have to fight the mountain passes.

    Bald Eagle couple in the distance. I have closer photos of the pair but I like the backdrop of this photo.
  3. The drive back to Denver was rough. As stated above I’ll forgo looking for birds on the way not to worry about the drive. I have driven in the worst Midwest snowstorms but never at 10,000 feet with trucks going up and down on the mountain passes. Not again.

    This was taken on the drive to Grand Junction before the snow started falling. Add 10″ of snow, zero visibility, and you have the picture of the drive back.
  4. This was my first time flying on Frontier and had no problems on either flight. The only catch are limited flights from Indianapolis to Denver. And Alamo Rent-A-Car was good for the second straight trip. Will use both again without hesitation.

    Nothing fancy. Basic motel and white Altima rental car.
  5. The next non-June trip will be timed to coincide with migration of raptors and before the snow comes to the mountains. There is a good movement of raptors along the west edge of the Rockies I’d like to see.
  6. For you listers, I saw 62 species on the trip of which 23 were new Colorado species and 5 life birds. In June I’ll probably spend some time looking for rarer species up in the mountains.

    I saw a pair of Pinyon Jays, one of my favorite Colorado birds.
  7. I proved I like to bird one area and get to know it versus traveling all day from spot to spot. And flying direct will add another day of birding the area.
  8. Still no Golden Eagle. But I’m sure one will fly by eventually.

    One of the most numerous species were White-crowned Sparrows.
  9. The zoom feature of the Nikon P900 camera proved I don’t need to lug along a spotting scope. For distant views it worked well to ID species.
  10. I saw other wildlife outside of birds. Rabbits, a lone fox, and a deer couple which scared the @(*%& out of me.
    Can you spot the rabbit? Not sure how I spotted it camouflaged in the grass.
    A view of a distant Red Fox south of the dam at Highline SP.

    The male deer first raised up out of the grass at about 20 feet. Was more than a little scary.
  11. Weather was great for December outside of the mountain passes on the drive back. Lows in teens, highs in the 40’s. Very light snow
  12. Accomplished the main goal of checking out Douglas Pass for the June Breeding Bird Survey trip. It should be interesting running the survey from the start in scrub land and working my way over a mountain pass.
  13. As I stated in a couple of previous posts I need to learn status and distribution for the area better. The number of Ruby-crowned Kinglets still surprises me.
  14. And as always every hour had highlights but the American Dipper was probably the best since it was totally unexpected.

    Western Colorado Final Thoughts
    Goodbye to Western Colorado until June.

Horned Grebe Molting

One of my favorite times of the year is the last of March and first of April. That’s the time Common Loon and Horned Grebe in Johnson County. And if really lucky Bonaparte’s Gull and Red-breasted Merganser. Outside of Lamb Lake in the far SW of the county the large lake at Driftwood SFA is the only spot deep enough for those species. After a couple of attempts I eventually found those species, especially some Horned Grebe molting, but not in Johnson County.

I had looked for the above species at Driftwood the last weekend in March without any luck. So I was hopeful for this past weekend.

Mike and I met up early Saturday and in the cold proceeded to check out several locations in Johnson County. Mike was hopeful for Rusty Blackbirds and I was just glad to be outdoors away from work. I saw several FOY birds and Mike added Wild Turkey at Johnson County Park.

Late morning Mike had to take off so I checked Driftwood. Lots of Tree Swallows, but no loons or grebes.

The lone bird singing at Driftwood was a lone Brown Thrasher.

So with the weather a little warmer Sunday I made a run up to Marion County’s Geist Reservoir. Upon exiting the car I could hear the roar of BIG boat engines. I hadn’t thought about fisherman being out. But as chance would have it I arrived before the boaters were out in full force and could scan the lake.

The view from the dam at Geist Reservoir.
Common Loons were staying on the far side of the reservoir.
As noted above the Common Loons weren’t near until this one popped up right in front. It then immediately dove and I never saw it again.
The boaters were periodically flushing the waterfowl. With their white wing patches and body pattern these Red-breasted Merganser were easy to ID. Even at a distance.
Just to confirm the ID I took a photo at the max zoom of the P900. Even at this zoom and in bad sunlight it’s at least a confirming photo of the Red-breasted Mergansers. With the zoom it allows me to leave the spotting scope in the car.
Now for the feature species. A non-breeding plumage Horned Grebe.
Horned Grebe Molting
A Horned Grebe going into breeding plumage.

And now a photo that will go into my personal Top 10.

I’m not sure I have ever seen Horned Grebes in both breeding and non-breeding plumage this close together. Let alone photographed them. I wish the lighting would have been brighter.

Natural History Journey Begins

I having been birding for several years now and have gone through many phases of birding. From the learning phase to listing phase to Big Day phase to traveling phase and everything in-between. Except as readers know I skipped the “chasing” phase, which I sometimes regret because of the social aspects of “chasing”. But through every phase it was about birds. Well it’s time to make a change. And start what I’m calling the Natural History Journey.

Mike has often pointed out other natural things besides birds but I never took an interest. With my limited time in the field I wanted to spend as much of it as possible with birds. This on hindsight was probably wrong.

But it is time to make a change. Several things probably contributed to the need to change. Maybe Mike’s constant telling me to look in a certain tree for a bird and I didn’t know which one he meant. Or maybe recently seeing extinct species at the National Natural History Building. Or reading about the loss of land in our bird’s winter homes.

But probably the realization that all natural objects are related.

And I need to know what those objects are and how they interact.

Natural History Journey
Seriously, about the only relationship I know between a tree and bird are in the Midwest Yellow-throated Warblers breed by water with an abundance of Sycamore trees. A large Sycamore in my “backyard”.


A Yellow-throated Warbler obviously not on a Sycamore Tree. No light green, smooth bark. See, I’m already learning.

This blog’s focus will still primarily be on birding but will also discuss other organisms I discover on my Natural History Journey. Like trees, shrubs, butterflies, moths, insects, rocks, and anything else I find interesting in nature.

So bear with me if you already know these things and if not, hopefully I’ll peak you interest.

But first I have to return the “unnatural” rental car I used for work last week.