By the time you read this, I will have taken my first ever birding trip out of state on a bus with a bunch of bird geeks just like me. We're headed to Magee Marsh on the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio.
They advertise themselves as the warbler capital of the world. We'll see if they live up to their billing!
I'm not sure what to expect with this trip. Will everyone be weighed down with birding equipment like camera lenses that you could see all the way to the planet Mars with?
Will we all have enough pockets on our vests and pants to stuff in extra batteries, memory cards, bird guides, lens cleaners, binoculars and, of course, plenty of snacks (it's hard work chasing birds so we'll need the extra fuel)?
Will the all the warblers I've never seen before be kind enough to pose for me in just the right light at just the right time? Will they even show up at all?
These and other burning questions will be answered in my next column. In the meantime, let's take up that warbler gauntlet, along with a few other primo bird sightings, and throw it down right here in our own Carroll County back yards.
In the last few weeks, the super highway of spring bird migration has started and some nifty birds have taken the off ramp to our house (it's so nice when birds can follow directions right to our humble abode).
At the top of my list is the rose-breasted grosbeak. This bird is drop dead gorgeous with his black and white body splashed with a stunning rose emblazoned chest.
After having a serious case of envy because so many other people had him in their yards and I didn't, there he was munching down on suet right next to the house (he was having an identity crisis that day by hanging upside down like a woodpecker while grabbing beakfuls of food).
My first photos were taken through the window (never an ideal situation, especially if they're not perfectly clean) but you take what you can get when you haven't seen these birds for several years. Fortunately, he liked us so much that he came back for two more visits. For once I was outside when he popped in again and took some photos that even a professional photographer would be proud of.
That leads to my next sighting: yellow-rumped warblers. In bird lingo they are also known as Myrtle's warblers or "butter-butts."
I've seen glimpses of one several times over the years. Every photo I took was a wonderful blur of black, white and yellow (I was not really going for the impressionistic look but that's what I got). Finally, this year after two long hours of trying, I managed a decent shot of him in all his buttery glory.
When it rains, it pours, and that's exactly what happened when I saw an American redstart on the edge of our woods. This was a first for me. This attractive little warbler is black on top with patches of orange and yellow on the wings, base of the tail and breast. He's a stand out as he be-bops from limb to limb in the trees fanning his colorful tail.
Speaking of yellow, the yellowthroat is another warbler making the rounds in our low-lying brush and bushes. I've seen it elsewhere, (the edge of the parking lot at the Hampstead Walmart comes to mind), but it's been at least 20 years since I've seen it in our yard. You can't mistake this bird with its lone ranger black mask and bright yellow throat.
I have a sneaking suspicion that most of these birds visit here every year during spring migration. What's changed is that I'm paying more attention, spending more time, and listening more closely for them. I am truly amazed at the variety of sights and sounds flashing through our trees and shrubs without most of us even knowing they're here.