One morning in mid-October, I woke to find the skies clear and blue but the ground covered in silvery frost. I waited for the sun to rise high enough to provide some light for photos then set out on a walk at a park along the Credit River in Mississauga. Coming through a meadow towards a cluster of trees, I spotted a flock of little brown and black jobs and slowed down to sort them out.
Dark-eyed Juncos Wearing Grey, Black, Brown and White Plumes Lighten the Morning Mood
Although Juncos aren’t particularly colourful, their personalities shine even on a frosty morning. They flit from tree to grass, flashing white tail Vs and white fronts. Their pink-ish bills seem unlikely on otherwise sombre-coloured birds. When they find leaves, they kick them aside with an amusing nonchalance. I enjoyed seeing them and taking a few photos where I didn’t have to try to compensate for the unforgiving glare from fresh snow.
Feisty White-throated Sparrows Tzzz and Chirp
A much browner bird among the Juncos quickly identified itself by making the two simple calls I hear when a flock of White-throated Sparrows are moving through dense cover. To prove it, one sparrow turned to face me to show off the distinctive white throat with dark lines. These birds also have a small yellow mark near their eyes which can be helpful when trying to identify which sparrow I’ve spotted through thick cover.
A Flash of Lemon Yellow Surprises and Delights as a Nashville Warbler Pops Up
In the spring, many birders complain of a stiff neck, the side effect o staring up into the tops of trees to identify migrating warblers. This warbler, though, popped up, not down, for a snack. So what I saw was a tall stalk of goldenrod, mostly in seed, shiver and shake as something worried it from below, then “zing” up sprang a bird on top of the seed head. This bird’s front was the colour of a summer sun and it seemed twice as vivid against the dull taupe and grey of spent goldenrod.
Was It a Nashville Warbler or Golden-crowned Warbler?
I got briefly confused when I saw the bird because it tipped its head towards me and I could see a muddled colour on top of its head. There’s another late-to-move-through warbler called an Orange –Crowned Warbler that can have murky head markings.
Another birder explained to me that I didn’t need to look for such a vague field mark, though. Instead, I should look at the eyes. Nashville Warblers have a clear light-coloured eye ring. Orange-crowned Warblers don’t. My warbler had the eye ring, so it was a Nashville.
I’ll admit I was a tiny bit disappointed as I have seen several Nashvilles and only one Orange-crowned. Still, when I saw the Nashville turn and flash a vivid chest of yellow at me, I quickly overcame my miff.
Late Migrating Nashville Warblers Like to Hunt in the Goldenrod
The Nashville I was watching was happily hunting through the Goldenrod blossom and seed heads. It was mostly snatching up prey from the undersides of the plumes and it would stretch into some odd poses to reach anything that caught its eye. Judging by the times I saw it stop to swallow, it was having a successful morning.
Later on that morning, the warming sun melted away the frost, but the memory of the Nashville in the silvery gloom is still bright in my mind’s eye.
- What Grey and White Bird is Flashing a White V of Tail at Me?
- What Sparrow Has Yellow Eyebrows?
- What Is This Rosy Pink Sparrow Singing Happily and Visiting my Feeder?
Have you seen any warblers in your local goldenrod patch? Please share your sighting with a comment.