Female Yellow Warbler - Phippsburg, Maine August 2010female Yellow warbler. I've seen lots of Yellow Warblers and have photographed many of them, so I didn't think that was it. I spent a fair amount of time wading through bird guides before I posed my question to the larger audience. To give you an idea of how complicated this is I have included one of the responses I received -
"The bird Robin photographed is a female Yellow Warbler. Note the decurved culmen and rather stout bill typical of the genus Dendroica and unlike the nearly straight and sharply pointed bill of Tennessee (genus Oreothylpis, formerly Vermivora). The bird is short-tailed and has yellow edging to tail feathers and the wing; it has a paler yellow eyering; and, unlike Tennessee, bright yellow through out the underparts."
Now, doesn't that just give you a headache? And admit it, you didn't read the whole thing, short as it is. That's okay. I'm a devoted birder and yet, I too find some of it pretty tedious. My reaction probably accounts for my failure to get it right a lot of the time, too. Warblers at this time of year are a significant challenge because they are wearing non breeding plumage. They are also migrating, so there are more of them including juveniles, headed south.
My dilemma is that I do want to know what the birds are, but so often, I can't figure it out, so I want to keep asking the experts. Responses to my questions like these, "It's yeeeeeelllllllllllllllow.........now THAT would be a hint," and "Look it up," indicate to me that my questions are annoying. Do ya think? I guess you never get too old to ask a question which someone more knowledgeable will regard as a stupid question. So, should I keep putting it out there just how dumb I am, or keep asking the questions?
Blue-headed vireo eating a Cicada, Phippsburg, Maine August 2010
Blue-headed vireo eating a Mountain ash berry, Phippsburg, Maine August 2010
Which brings me to this bird. I was pretty sure it was an American redstart. My inclination was that it was a female, or that it could be a first year. I felt pretty pumped up and big for my britches that I had figured that out, too. The head shape and spectacles made me nervous, though. Yes, nervous. Shouldn't birding and photography be fun first, anxiety provoking second? My palms were sweating as I put the question out to the list serve. I reflexively pulled the collar of my shirt away from my neck. I coughed. My tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth. I felt a hive welting up. I grabbed a paper bag and pulled it down over my head to stop the hyperventilation I could not control. My head was reeling as I hit send. And of course, I was wrong. In less then twenty-four hours, I committed to the wrong bird! Aachararrrrrrrghhhhh! Being the Homer Simpson of birding, I slapped my head, "N-DOH!"
At least this was not one I had ever seen before. It is a Blue-headed vireo. There are fifteen species of vireos. Three of them, Plumbeous, Cassin's and Blue-headed look very much alike. In the past, they were lumped together as all one species, the Solitary vireo. Blue-headeds are the eastern most of the three and they like coniferous forests which the other two don't care for so much. Vireos are about 4 1/2 inches head to tail. Their pronounced spectacles are one of their primary identifying features. They are primarily insect eaters though they do eat some fruit. They are migratory in Maine and head to Mexico and Central America when it gets cold which makes them smarter than me and Homer Simpson.
Thanks to David Allen Sibley, The Sibley Guide To Birds and allaboutbirds.com for some of the information.