Avian Photography is truly a passion and I honestly have to say, of all the species I photograph, the colorful and tiny wood warbler has to be my favorite. The majority of my friends and peers much prefer the majestic “raptor” and owls as their subjects of choice. While I enjoy photographing those as well, and especially the rarest Accipiters and Buteos (Hawks) to my region; I find trying to follow the tiniest of bird with a long telephoto lens; where the word “still” is a total misnomer in and out of the tightest of natural cover, “the ultimate photographic challenge”. Then you add forever changing light, from one extreme to another, creating an exposure nightmare and adding a final touch to the feat.
A Michaux State Forest Black and White goes “Vogue” for the camera
This post will be the beginning of a series dedicated to the “Woodland Warbler” and contain the species I have been fortunate enough to photograph; and over time collect enough imagery to keep things interesting. Just photographing these birds is only half of the challenge whereas establishing the proper identification for each can be the difficult part. Spring and breeding season identifications can be as simple as just looking them up in reference materials such as a pocket guide-book or on a smart-phone app. Fall and migrating birds can create quite a bit of confusion with many species appearing similar, or with some completely changing in appearance. In some cases, one has to really pay attention to some very subtle differences between the “look-a-likes”… All in all, this is what keeps it fun and interesting.
Black and White warbler photographed deep within the
Rhododendrons of the Michaux State Forest in Pennsylvania.
One of my favorites, and one of the most prolific breeders to my region is the Black and White Warbler, which is the only member of the genus Mniotilta; which means “moss plucking” and refers to the bird’s habit of probing for insects. The Black and White warbler is also one of the first to arrive to the breeding grounds which includes from southern Canada south through the eastern U.S., and south to Florida. It winters along the Gulf Coast, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. I often see wintering populations during my Christmas trips home to the Texas Gulf Coast
“Just Hanging Around”
The Black and White warbler forages unlike any other of the warbler species, with the movements of crawling up and down tree trunks or under or over branches like the nuthatch. With the unusual long hind toe and claw on each foot that allows them to move securely on the surface of tree bark, they were once referred to as the Black and White Creeper. However, the Brown Creeper can only move up the tree whereas the Black and White warbler can climb or descend in any direction.
Black and White Creeper???
Black and White warblers breed in both purely deciduous and mixed deciduous-conifer forests with a preference to large mature trees with an under-story of smaller trees and shrubs. During the migration and winter, this warbler can be found in a variety of forest types as well as woodland borders, gardens, and coffee plantations.
An “Attentive Pose” by this Black and White Warbler
photographed in Dorchester County Maryland
During the spring and after they form a pair, the female will begin building the nest which is cup-shaped and is made of leaves and grasses. The nests are constructed on the ground and normally at the base of a tree or next to a fallen log and are usually well concealed under dead leaves or branches.
Once the nest is finished, the female will lay a clutch of 4 to 6 eggs which are white and with brown flecks in appearance. The incubation period consists of 10 to 12 days. The male will occasionally bring the female her meals during the incubation period. After the chicks hatch, both parents will assume the duties of feeding the young and defending the nest
“Belting Out a Tune”
The song of the Black and White Warbler is commonplace
in the Michaux State Forest of Pennsylvania
The chicks will normally fledge and leave the nest after 8 to 12 days, but will remain within their parent’s territory for 2 to 3 weeks before setting out on their own. Most Black and White warbler pairs will raise only one brood per year. However, some breeding pairs are able to raise two broods per summer. Black-and-white warblers are diurnal (active during the day) and all are migratory.
“Wee-see – Wee-see – Wee-see – Wee-see”
sings another Michaux Black and White Warbler
The Black and White Warbler is a fairly common bird of the forest with a present population of about 140,000,000 across their range. The species has a preference for large forested areas and one of the major threats facing them is forest fragmentation. Nest parasitism by cowbirds and as insectivores, pesticide poisoning is another major concern for this species… As a “nocturnal migrant”, Black-and-white Warblers are a frequent victim of collisions with glass, towers, and wind turbines.
A fall migrant grants me a sweet pose in my beloved and close to home,
Hanover Watershed Wildlife Management Area
At present, Black and White warblers are not threatened or endangered. However, they are protected under the U.S. Migratory Bird Act. May we keep the populations safe and happy!