For the past five years, the coming of spring brought excitement and anticipation to the arrival of one of my favorite warblers to a location very close to my home. Many of you have heard me mention, or read about through my prior posts, loving references to the Hanover Watershed Wildlife Management Area which shares its acreage with both York County Pennsylvania and Carroll County Maryland along the Mason-Dixon Line. There is a special section of this area that sits on the Pennsylvania side just below the MD state line which was a clear-cut, freshly planted with pine seedlings along with a thorny and brushy under story that seemed to be a highly prized breeding habitat of the Prairie Warbler.
This area had been a prior favorite of mine for the Indigo Bunting and the numerous sparrows present. I kept hearing multiple symphonies’ of a rapidly ascending sweet trill including a “check note” that I just couldn’t quite put my finger on. I was at that time, still very new to birding and especially new world warblers.
This was also a familiar tune that I had heard near the scrubby and wooded areas of the Gettysburg National Battlefield during some of my visits, but I hadn’t laid eyes on this songster at neither location.
So I spent an evening listening to the song of every warbler on my iBird smart phone app until I put a name to the sound.
A few days later I returned to my little spot in the watershed to see if I cold get a visual and capture a few images of this beautiful woodland warbler. The area covers about 2,000 feet of length and 670 feet of width along a busy roadway running north-east. The location is posted so any observing or photography had to be done from the vehicle along the road shoulder and when the weather is dry, the grassy shoulder is suitable to get off the road completely and safely out of the way of traffic.
There is however, signs warning “No Parking”, but luckily the caretakers of the property know both me and my vehicle well and afford me tolerance for my undertakings. The entire watershed is posted and not open to the public with the exception of the hunting area on the Maryland side which is by permit only, so all birding must be done off the roadways; the majority of which are gravel with very light traffic.
I started my exploration at the southern most corner of the property and there I heard the first song of the Prairie that morning. I also knew what I was now looking for so spotting the bird was much easier and faster and his location gave me multiple opportunities for photography. It’s funny how they seemed not to be bothered by me sitting there quietly enjoying and capturing their presence. I must have heard, observed and photographed at least 6 or 7 birds along that stretch of road during the morning hours that day along with the one pictured right perched on the top of a pine sapling. And that didn’t include the other birds I had either heard or spotted farther into the property.
“Peek-A-Boo” with the Prairie Warbler
How some of our warblers get their names behooves me considering the Magnolia has noting to do with the magnolia tree and the Prairie doesn’t live in, or is associated with open prairies. The Prairie prefers scrubby areas, grown over brushy pastures, young pines and breeds in dry old clearings, edges of forest, and sandy Pine Barrens with undergrowth of scrub oaks, and notably on ends of slopes and ridges. Now that I come to think of it, I have heard this song over in the New Jersey Pinelands while photographing wild orchids at several of the bogs. Some of the permanent residents of this species in Florida prefer the coastal mangrove forests. It also takes a liking to power-line right-of-ways, Christmas tree farms and abandoned orchards.
“Lurking in the Shadows” A Prairie Warbler captured with the flash..
Interesting facts include that Prairie Warbler males typically return to the same breeding territory used in previous years. This species is monogamous and will typically find a new mate each year. The female might leave after a nesting attempt with one male and attempt to mate with another male; and then some males may also mate with multiple females in non-adjacent territories Pairing normally occurs approximately one week after the male returns to his territory with breeding occurring from mid May to Mid July.
“Birds and Blooms” …. What an appropriate image..
The Prairie warbler’s breeding range encompasses most of the eastern United States from eastern Texas, north through southern Missouri, northeast through southern New England, and south to northern Florida. There are also isolated populations north into Michigan which are listed as “endangered” and continue into southern Ontario. The non-breeding range is almost exclusively within the Caribbean islands, with a few birds holding a permanent residence within the extreme south-eastern US (Florida).
“King of the Thorns” no problem with his perch whatsoever…
The Prairie warbler will begin breeding within its first year and will breed annually throughout its lifespan average of 3.5 years to a maximum potential of 10.5 years. The female will normally lay a clutch of 3 to 5 eggs and though only one brood is typical, she may lay an additional clutch. Post-fledgling mortality in this species is very high, but mortality from post-fledge to independence is quite low at only 18%…
“Sing A Happy Song”…. After the “attentive” pose above, he let out a tune…
As with so many of our warbler species, the greatest threat is habitat loss caused by development and “clean” farming. Habitat is also critical within its winter range and much has been lost to wood cutting, agriculture and of course more development. Besides habitat loss, Wind Turbines along migration routes and feral cats have also taken a toll, especial with the latter in Florida. I can remember a trip to the 10,000 Islands Region (southwest coast) and the Florida Keys where I witnessed an abundance of feral cats. I counted almost two dozen at one motel we stayed at in Marathon. Hurricanes and children hunting with sling-shots is also a major threat in the Caribbean.
“Rear View” …. A nice over the shoulder pose
Another pair of serious threats to the Prairie Warbler, like many of the warbler family, is the Brown-headed cowbird which acts as a nest parasite to this species and can cause the female to leave the nest completely. Then finally predators such as snakes and corvids take their toll. In fact predators are responsible for about 80% of nesting failures… Like many of our New World Warblers and other songbirds, populations have been declining over the past years.
“Face to Face” with the Prairie Warbler …. What more could one ask for !
All of the images presented throughout this post were captured at the same location over the past few years. However, as I had mentioned before, this little jewel can be found almost anywhere in his suitable habitat. The population in my favorite spot has been declining somewhat as the planted pines continue to grow taller shading out the sun dependent brushy under story. But, I will look for them again this coming spring as I always do…
Happy Birding to All!