Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mourning Morning

One morning last week I was out on the back deck trying to clip Liam's claw-like fingernails before sending him to school. As he fidgeted and I snipped and growled at him to sit still lest he lose a finger, I heard a foggily familiar bird song rise up out of the tangled mess of chlorophyll that is our old orchard.


No. It can't be!

But it was! A mourning warbler!

Liam's remaining fingernails were given a cursory clip, leaving them looking like he'd tried to stop a belt sander with just his fingertips. I was off to grab the camera, binocs, iPod, and Julie.

We beat it out to the orchard and the bird was still singing, but from deep in the woods. Mournings, being members of the dastardly warbler genus Oporornis, are natural skulkers, preferring the deepest, most impenetrable tangles from which to sing.

This bird was a migrant. The nearest breeding mourning warblers to southeastern Ohio are found in the rhododendron tangles of the West Virginia mountains. We spished to get his attention. He kept singing but did not come closer. I looked at the impressive blend of greenbriar and multiflora rose thorns, poison ivy, grape vines, and Japanese honeysuckle that was between us and the bird. Even if we DID manage to get through such a green maze, the noise of our crashing and cursing would surely scare the bird away.

We did have the iPod...

Migrant birds infrequently respond to recorded calls. Why should they? They are not yet defending any territory—they are merely passing through.

It was worth a try. The weather was warm and the sun was shining. It seemed we would not be putting undue stress on this male mourning warbler. Besides, even though I knew the song and Julie agreed with my ID by sound, it would be nice to SEE the bird both to confirm its identity and to enjoy its beauty: a dark hood (like a mourning cloak), olive back, lemon belly, and pinkish legs and bill.

I played the song on the iPod. The bird chipped and hopped into sight. Then it went back to singing and foraging in its newly visible location, offering up the occasional chip as it sashayed around the edge of the yard. It chased a common yellowthroat, perhaps just needing SOMEONE to pick on.

We got a few photos. And we enjoyed every minute of this lovely creature.

After I left for work, the mourning continued to sing and forage near the yard. Julie heard a second one a few days later.

This may very well be the only mourning warbler I see this year. And thinking back it's been at least two years since I've seen one well—the last being on my 2006 adventure to northernmost Minnesota seeking another Oporornis, the Connecticut warbler.

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