Saturday, June 25, 2016

An Eastern Warbler I Had Always Wanted to See

The North Dakota trek was a tiring one and a long one, but it was one that was worth it.  Six life birds came out of the trek as well as my main Short-eared Owl target for the entire trip.  Once I made it back to the Wallestad's home on the night of June 11th, we had some preparing to do for our next trip.  The upcoming trip would take us into the heart of central Wisconsin where there are some epic birds to go along with some epic birding locations.  Josh and I were mainly thinking about two endangered birds that we could land on our life lists, the Whooping Crane and Kirtland's Warbler.  As both would seemingly require some luck to see, Josh and I did some studying before we would leave on June 12th for both species.

Once June 12th came, Josh, Evan, and I left early to start our 5.5 hour drive to Wisconsin.  Yes, the trek was long and you rarely see three dudes last for 5.5 hours straight without getting out of the vehicle and doing something cool.  That was solved when we went for a 1.5 hour birding outing at Carver Park Reserve in Carver County, Minnesota.  If you remember back to the first day of the trip, June 9th, we made a stop at Carver for nearly an hour.  That first visit here saw me lifer with Sedge Wren and Field Sparrow.  And now I was hoping to lifer on an extremely cool bird, in fact, this cool bird is an eastern warbler that I had always wanted to see, the Cerulean Warbler.  We were thinking about trying for the Cerulean Warbler on the first day on June 9th, but because Falls Creek State Natural Area was great and took up a lot of time, we didn't have time for the Cerulean search.  As the conclusion to that, Josh came up with the alternative of looking for it on June 12th while en route on our way to Minnesota.  With this alternative, it made more sense.  It was early in the morning, and the bird along with many other birds, were likely to be more vocal.  Josh, Evan, and I arrived at Carver Park Reserve at 7:35 A.M. and started to walk towards where someone had seen and heard a Cerulean Warbler.  The location was along a bike trail through Carver Park Preserve, and it was just southwest of a lake in the area.  We felt like the warbler wouldn't be too hard to locate if we found the right habitat.  Josh was telling me during the morning about the Cerulean Warbler's main habitat preference, which are thick deciduous forests highly made up of oaks that fall on hills and slopes.  As we got to the area of the sighting, Josh looked up the trail and pointed out some habitat ahead of us that looked good for Cerulean Warbler.

I've read that Cerulean Warblers can be very tough to see and that they really cling to the treetops.  One such example that I heard of this was that people would wait for hours to catch a glimpse of this warbler.  They would even take blankets with them to lie and the ground and look up for a good chunk of the day before the warbler would finally come into view.  I was hoping that we wouldn't have to wait too long.  As we approached the habitat where there were many oak trees on a hill along the bike path, I felt good about our chances.  These oak trees weren't tall to the intimidating degree, and a moving warbler wasn't going to be too difficult.  Minutes after getting into this area, the Cerulean Warbler sounding off, giving it's distinctive buzzy song.  Sibley describes it as, "tzeedl tzeedl tzeedl ti ti ti tzeeeee....".  This song is high in pitch and it was awesome to hear the bird!  At first it was well back in the woodlands, and then it moved a lot closer.  And before we knew it, it was then above us!

Cool looking warbler, huh!?!  The Cerulean Warbler is distinctive, and the females are distinctive too.  This male here is easily identified by his solid white underparts, dark blue breastband, white throat, sky blue back and head, and two white wingbars.  Josh, Evan, and I all took every advantage that we could to get good looks and pictures of this epic warbler.  It's a great feeling to look in your field guide with a relaxed mindset and see that awesome bird like the Cerulean Warbler and want to see it for years, and then to enjoy it live on a trip like this and to enjoy it by hearing and seeing it sing in front of you.

Josh and Evan were just as excited about the Cerulean Warbler as I was.  Josh has seen this bird before, but hasn't had the views that this guy was giving us.

At 4.75 inches in length, the Cerulean Warbler is a very small warbler.

For several minutes, the male Cerulean sang above us in a smaller tree just off the trail.

While deciduous woods were on one side of the bike path, an open marshy field was on the other.  To our surprise, the Cerulean decided to majorly switch things up and fly into the marshy area a few times!  His blue back really stood out as he flew around in the open.  At one time, he even perched briefly on top of the grass and right as Josh and I tried to get a picture of his weird flight path, he flew back into the woods and into the oaks where we originally had him.

Trip wise, the Cerulean Warbler also came at a great time.  It was my 20th life bird of the trip.  When I told my friends in Phoenix about my trip, I said I'd be lucky to reach 20 life birds on the trip.  With Cerulean being the 20th and more targets to go, I guess I underestimated how many lifers I would get.  Getting warbler lifers is something that is great, and on this trip, lifer "slots" were filled in many different families.  As my lifer Cerulean flew into the woodland, he continued to be obliging for the three of us.

The Cerulean Warbler is now one of my favorite warblers.  I snapped away.  Heck, here's a few more!

Here's two pictures of Josh and Evan celebrating the warbler: one in front of the marsh the bird flew into and the other in front of it's appropriate woodland habitat.

As we started to work our way back, the Cerulean continued to sing in the woods above us.  What a great bird!

In addition to the Cerulean Warbler score, there were some other birds that were highlights for the Carver Park Reserve expedition also.

A Blue Jay popped into our path.  Although these birds are common, they can be challenging to see sometimes!

We then heard a Blue-winged Warbler singing.  For the second time of this trip, we had some awesome views of this species, which I lifered on during the trip's first day.  This second bird was very obliging, just like the Cerulean Warbler was.  Dang!

This Field Sparrow also popped up into close view.  It seemed to have a nest nearby.

A close up Tree Swallow was also pretty cool.

At Carver, other highlights among 40 species we had included a Common Loon vocalizing on a lake as well as flying over the area, Chimney Swifts, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great-crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated, Warbling, and Red-eyed Vireos; Sedge Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Gray Catbird, Brown Thrasher, Bobolink, and Baltimore Oriole.  It was a great 1.5 hours at Carver.  Thanks Josh and Evan!

After Carver, the trek to Wisconsin was officially underway.  Stay tuned...


  1. Congrats on the amazing warbler-lifer, Tommy! You are killing it out there! Looking forward to some more smack posts!

    1. Thanks Caleb! Warbler fest is great. I have at least four more posts coming...

  2. Totally awesome, Tommy! Your Cerulean photos are super - and a mega-super Lifer!!

    1. Thanks Babs! I had a epic time watching this bird forage and sing. It is for sure a favorite warbler of mine!

  3. You grabbed some great photos of that Cerulean, Tommy!

    What a tidy stop that was: no bugs, paved trails, target bird found in minutes, and a Cerulean in our faces. If only we could have gotten that Cerulean/cattail combo pic.

    1. Thanks Josh! Was that an awesome observation we had or what!?

      No bugs, no other birders, the paved trails were great, and yes, Cerulean right there!! I still can't believe the views we had of it, and if we could've pulled off that cattail combo...