When One Little Yellow Warbler Is Not “A” Yellow Warbler

My meeting with a Wood Duck pair at Arkendo Park in Oakville taught me to never underestimate a mallard. It also taught me to go ahead and take a photo even if I “know” what I’m looking at. I’m awfully glad I’ve brought in this new policy as I keep meeting new creatures by following it. Here’s another example. For a couple of months I had to spend a few hours a week late in the afternoon / early in the evening waiting. Naturally, I used the time to go for a waterfront ramble along Lake Ontario.

In Search of a Yellow Warbler’s Nest

Photo of Yellow Warbler Female on NaturalCrooksDotCom

On the second week of May, I encountered a Yellow Warbler female working her way around a thick thicket (guess those words are related) of dogwood and raspberry canes. That’s perfect habitat for her nest. When I saw her there again the next week, I started seriously watching trying to figure out where her nest was. Of course she was much too canny to show me.

Don’t Take a Girl for Granted

The third week, the weather was iffy. There was a bit of spitting rain and it was overcast although the wind occasionally tore a hole in the clouds. I had to decide whether to go at all or whether to hide in the dry warmth of the car. Of course I started walking.

At the same place as always, I saw a flash of yellow. Ah ha, I thought smugly. She must have a nest here.

Photo of Wilsons Warbler Blurred Bush on NaturalCrooksDotCom

I approached fairly directly for me and without a lot of pauses. She had moved from the dogwoods to a lilac that was blooming. Everyone else always gets photos of warblers in beautiful settings, so I felt maybe my turn had come.

As she darted in and out around the lilac and several dogwoods I managed to snap a few quick photos. Then the weather took a turn towards spiteful and I had to retreat.

A Second Look, a Second Species

Photo of Wilsons Warbler 2 on NaturalCrooksDotCom

At the time I took the photos I was a bit surprised how dark she seemed but I put it down to the fading light.

When I got home, however, a different explanation occurred. Looking at the full-sized photos on the well-lit computer pointed out that this “Yellow” warbler had a greeny-grey cap! And her tail, though covered on the sides with a translucent wash of yellow was not spotted with yellow.

Photo of Wilsons Warbler 3 on NaturalCrooksDotCom

A browse through the Sibley Field Guide to the Birds suggested it might not be a Yellow at all. It looked far more like a Wilson’s. Photos on AllAboutBirds and the internet seemed to agree. To make entirely sure, I had the more expert birders at OutdoorOntario take a look.

Photo of Wilsons Warbler 4 on NaturalCrooksDotCom

The consensus was that it was a Wilson’s Warbler. I’m still not clear if it was a female, or a first-year (non-breeding) male, but that’s ok.

Keep Snapping

I’ve never taken a photo of a Wilson’s before and if I hadn’t taken a few photos of my “old friend” Mrs. Yellow, I still wouldn’t have one. This has really reinforced my belief that it’s worth taking photos of everything. You can always discard them later but you may find a jewel among the dross.

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Have you ever been surprised to discover a bird you thought a common old friend was actually a new and exciting find? Please share your experiences with a comment.

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