Warblers at their best!

By Marie-France and Denis Rivard
July 25, 2016

Warblers display their most colourful plumage in the spring, as they head towards their breeding grounds in northern areas.  It is also easier to see and photograph them as they congregate along predictable migration routes. Some places, like Magee Marsh and Point Pelee, are well known as regular “stop over” during that migration. For photography, some years can be better than others for sightings, depending upon weather conditions and the degree to which the leaves are developed. In some years, the conditions can be such that warblers (and other birds) appear in large numbers over a short period of time, creating a phenomenon called a “fallout”. The migration of warblers is an event in itself but a fallout brings the experience to another level.    

In May 2016, we experienced a migration fallout while visiting Point Pelee National Park. These fallouts typically occur when birds have to cross a long stretch of water and the weather conditions are such that the birds, falling out of exhaustion, seek a landing place to take shelter, rest and feed. The intensity of the fallouts can vary depending on the conditions that created them. For a good description of bird fallouts, see http://birding.about.com/od/Bird-Glossary-E-G/g/Fallout.htm.  Certain places, like Point Pelee on Lake Erie, are known for this phenomenon.

Cerulean warbler (Paruline azurée) – an endangered species by Marie-France and Denis Rivard ©

Cerulean warbler (paruline azurée) – an endangered species.

As we approached the end of Point Pelee on May 11, we quickly realized that something unique was occurring. There seemed to be a lot of bird activity and the diversity of species was greater than what we had seen in the previous days. As we went down a trail commonly used by birdwatchers at the tip, we started to hear people say things like “I have not seen anything like this in the past 10 years. Another said: “The last time I witnessed such a day was in the early 1970s”. The birds were feeding frenetically, ignoring people around them. At one point, we saw a chestnut-sided warbler fly from one side of the trail to the other through the legs of bystanders to dislodge another chestnut-sided feeding in a bush.     

Blackburnian warbler (paruline à gorge orangée) By Marie-France and Denis Rivard ©

Blackburnian warbler (paruline à gorge orangée).

During that day, we saw 43 species of birds, almost twice the number we had seen in the previous days. The fallout included 15 species of warblers, including northern parula, magnolia warbler, bay-breasted warbler, Blackburnian warbler, black-throated blue warbler, Canada warbler, Wilson’s warbler, and American redstart. Also present were more common species like the yellow warbler, yellow-rumped warbler, palm warbler, Cape May warbler, common yellowthroat, black-throated green warbler, black-and-white warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, as well as kinglets, flycatchers, vireo, wrens and more.

Female American redstart (paruline flamboyante) By Marie-France and Denis Rivard ©

Female American redstart (paruline flamboyante).

Fallouts are marked not only by the diversity of species but also by the number of individuals. The timing of this fallout was such that the breeding plumage appeared in full or in part, providing good opportunities for bird photography. It was also interesting to see the variations in plumage as the birds were at various stages in their maturation.

Chestnut-sided warbler (paruline à flancs marron) By Marie-France and Denis Rivard ©

Chestnut-sided warbler (paruline à flancs marron).

Bay-breasted Warbler (paruline à poitrine baie) By Marie-France and Denis Rivard ©

Bay-breasted Warbler (paruline à poitrine baie).

Cape May warbler (paruline tigrée) By Marie-France and Denis Rivard ©

Cape May warbler (paruline tigrée).

Black-and-white warbler (paruline noire-et-blanche) By Marie-France and Denis Rivard ©

Black-and-white warbler (paruline noire-et-blanche).

Black-throated blue warbler (paruline bleue à gorge noire) By Marie-France and Denis Rivard ©

Black-throated blue warbler (paruline bleue à gorge noire).

New arrivals at the tip of the point occurred through the morning. As the day progressed, the birds moved from the tip to the northern parts of Point Pelee National Park. It was like a wave of birds moving through the park, providing good sightings for bird watchers in various locations and habitats.

Common yellowthroat (paruline masquée) By Marie-France and Denis Rivard ©

Common yellowthroat (paruline masquée).

This fallout occurred toward the end of our journey around Lake Erie when we again followed the route described in our article on the 2015 Spring Migration (see below). During our 2016 tour, which also brought us to Magee Marsh and the Maumee Bay State Park in Ohio, we saw around 140 species of birds and 23 species of warblers. This field trip also allowed us to test a new camera body, a Canon 5Ds, which consistently provided detailed images with a handheld 150-600mm Sigma lens.      

Magnolia warbler (paruline à tête cendrée) Common yellowthroat (paruline masquée)

Magnolia warbler (paruline à tête cendrée).

Wilson’s warbler (paruline à calotte noire) Common yellowthroat (paruline masquée)
Wilson’s warbler (paruline à calotte noire).

If you are new to bird photography, it is a good idea find out where birding hotspots are in your area or any area you plan to visit. A useful tool to find birding hotspots is the eBird website (http://ebird.org/ebird/canada/hotspots), a joint initiative of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. An app published by Birds in the Hand, called Hotspot, links directly into their database to give you this information while you are in the field. This application served us well in our travel both in Canada and abroad. Another app, simply called eBird, allows you to submit sightings from your mobile phone if you wish to contribute to the growing field of “citizen science”.

Another way to find good photo opportunities is to check the activities of local birding or nature societies to possibly join them on field trips. In addition, many parks and reserves, like Magee Marsh in USA and Point Pelee National Park in Canada, have special events to celebrate the spring migration of warblers or the fall migration of raptors and/or butterflies. These events are usually well worth attending.  

In summary, the highlight of this year’s trip around Lake Erie was the unique fallout which occurred in Point Pelee National Park in the second week of May. The fallout added excitement, heart-pounding moments and great photo opportunities to the journey.       


Authors Biography & Contact Information

Marie-France and Denis Rivard The authors, who like to combine bird watching and nature photography in their travel, visited Point Pelee National Park a number of times during the spring and fall bird migrations. For the photos presented here, they used a Sigma 150-500mm lens attached to a Canon 70D and a Sigma 150-600mm lens mounted on a Canon 5Ds. The headshot photo was made by Marcela Zuluaga during a field trip to Colombia (see links to other articles below).



Other articles by the same authors:

Email: rivardd@gmail.com

Web sites: http://www.natureandwildlifephotography.ca/

Many of the photos presented here appear in our 2017 calendar Warblers at their Best - 2017

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