We had left Arizona and were in a campsite at a campground near the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park, Tex. In preparation for our trek the following day, we played the recording of the colima warbler over and over again while preparing dinner. We knew we would only find this rare warbler if we heard it first.
The alarms went off at O’dark hundred (around 5:30 a.m.) and we rustled up tea and coffee to the tapes of the colima warbler. As we moved from the back of the bird buggy to the driver and navigator seats we heard an elf owl calling. We had a 40 minute drive to the trailhead at Chisos Basin, which was at 5,401 feet, around 4,000 feet higher than the bird buggy’s present site. It was dark but close to a full moon shone over the Chisos Mountains giving us a profile of the amazing mountains that used to be the Apache stronghold. Formed by volcanic action, these mountains were forged by magmas pushing up from the center of the earth and forcing their way into the existing limestone. We arrived at the parking lot by the trailhead around 7:15 a.m., and were on the trail shortly thereafter.
We were headed for picnic areas 1, 2 and 3 off the Pinnacles Trail, the area that we had been told colima warblers had been heard and seen the day before. Designed to allow for runoff, the trails switched back and forth as we ascended. Portions were steps; others were flat yet rising all the while. We stopped often to catch our breath, listen for the bird songs and admire the scenery. The first song we heard sounded like a song sparrow but turned out to be a Bewick’s wren. Next a warbler, one I knew I had heard before, and after a bit of snooping we found a northern parula singing its heart out on the top of a juniper.
We finally reached the junction of the Pinnacles Trail and picnic areas 1, 2 and 3. We found two photographers sitting on a rock cropping. They had just seen THE warbler but complained that the lighting was so bad their photos weren’t worth it so they were going to wait a bit or go higher. We split off and went down the picnic area 1, and lo and behold we heard a colima warbler song. We searched and searched the trees around. At one point we spotted a small grey bird shoot through the trees but we were unable to find where it landed. Flip and I both agreed that it was the right size, shape and color for a colima warbler and came from the area from which the song was emanating. We listened and sat for a spell and when we no longer heard the warbler, we climbed back up to where the photographers had been. We met another photographer on his way down who said he had seen and heard THE warbler up two more switch backs only 20 minutes earlier. Up we climbed to stop, look, listen! We heard the colima two more times as we climbed but we never saw it.
We really wanted to get more than a fleeting glimpse of the colima warbler but we realized that we had to start down. It was 11:30 a.m., and we knew we would have an at least a three-hour trek down. We were definitely bummed but our spirits rose because on our slow downward trek, we found two new birds for our trip. One was a pair of black-crested titmouse sounding so much like tufted titmice that until we saw them we would have sworn they were tufted not black-crested titmice. The other, swooping over the Emory Peak at 7,415 feet, were two or three white-throated swifts.
Later Flip got a sly grin on his face and asked if I didn’t want to try to find the colima warbler again tomorrow. My answer was no, unless I go up by horseback. Flip declined the horse idea and said the only way he would make the trip to find the colima warbler again would be by helicopter.
My cues that spring has sprung and summer is well on the way are the appearance of barn swallows, least and common terns, as well as watching goslings and ducklings waddle after their parents. Oh yes, and hearing the incessant calls of hatchling birds and watching the exhausted parents bringing them sustenance day in and day out.
Robert Green and Linda Dewitt reported that on April 21 they had a belted kingfisher visiting their pond off Watcha Path. They also commented that the eastern bluebirds that had been around most of the year disappeared for a month and then returned. Linda spotted the first barn swallows on April 22 and noted that was two weeks earlier than normal for their neck of the woods.
Jeff Bernier photographed barn swallows at Menemsha on April 26.
The week of April 20 to 27 the father-son team of Adam and Rand Burnett visited Chappaquiddick and sent the following bird sightings:
“First of all, red-breasted nuthatches were surprisingly abundant throughout the Island. At just about every site we birded, we seemed to hear at least a few singing from the pitch pines. The rental house just off Wasque avenue where we stayed had a feeder whose visitors included two female rose-breasted grosbeaks, present each day from April 20 to April 27. We enjoyed excellent songbird diversity (as usual) from Mytoi Gardens, where we saw many pine warblers, white-throated sparrows and eastern towhees each day, supplemented by a hermit thrush on April 21, a ruby-crowned kinglet on April 22, and three blue-gray gnatcatchers on April 24. We saw many red-throated and common loons throughout the week, both on the ocean and on Cape Pogue Pond. On April 24 we saw two great egrets and one snowy egret on Poucha Pond. On April 25 at East Beach we saw horned larks that were singing and seemed to be engaged in courtship behavior, as well as two pairs each of piping plovers and American oystercatchers. Probably our most exciting find was a beautiful little blue heron feeding in a salt marsh on the east shore of Katama Bay, as well as another pair of piping plovers nearby. The little blue is indeed a great sighting for the Vineyard/Chappaquiddick; they are not seen often. Finally, as we waited for our ferry at Vineyard Haven, we enjoyed watching 11 brant swimming in the harbor.”
Ginny Jones reports that there is a single American oystercatcher on the east side of Tisbury Great Pond on Tsissa Cove.
Kate Greer emailed a photo taken on Chappaquiddick on April 15 of a double-banded American oystercatcher.
Dave Kinney sent two photographs that his son Dave took on Chappaquiddick on April 29. One was of a ring-necked duck and the other of a piping plover.
On May 1 Lanny McDowell visited Great Rock Bight and found a yellow warbler, American redstarts and northern parulas.
On May 2 Rob Culbert was at the frisbee golf course by the State Forest and at dusk he saw not only woodcocks performing their aerial courtship, but also heard whippoorwills and hermit thrushes singing. In my mind this beats frisbee any day!
Also on May 2 Ken Magnuson photographed a green heron at the Edgartown golf course. The next day he photographed a yellow warbler in the same location. Guess the golfing is pretty good!
Carolina wren hatchlings are present at the Uhlendorf/Stephens porch as of May 3. Penny notes the wrens used the same bird house as last year but it has new clean bedding!
Suzan Bellincampi emailed on May 4 to say the coastal waterbird program volunteer from Felix Neck observed the first American oystercatcher chicks but smartly kept the location a deep dark secret!
On May 5, Jeff Bernier photographed a late-staying red-throated loon in Edgartown Harbor.
Luanne Johnson, Liz Baldwin and Sammi Chaves report the arrival of common terns on Little Beach in Edgartown. They are now erecting a fence to prevent skunks from accessing the area.
Lastly, I just received a notice from the Bird Banding Laboratory that a herring gull that I banded on Penikese in 1998 was found on Cuttyhunk this year. I banded the gull when it was a hatchling, so by my count the gull was 15 years old!
I have been having some problems with the bird hotline and hopefully it will be rectified shortly. So please for the time being, just email any sightings to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.