Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chapter 5

At 5:30 this morning, through the open bedroom window, I listened to a loud neighborhood dispute - first one, then the other, then back to the first - over and over each neighbor stated his case, made his point. The assertions went on and on, with no compromise tendered, no resolutions forthcoming.

From the cherry tree outside the window, a Chestnut-sided Warbler proclaimed his virility and boasted his genetic virtues. Further away, from the branches of a leafing ash tree, another countered his greater virility, his superior genes. Back and forth the dispute went. And somewhere nearby I was sure that one or more females were assessing the arguments, deciding which one would be best suited to help feed her young. However the pairing might be resolved, I am sure that the females will hedge their genetic bets by mating with both.

Through the day I watched as one male chased another in defense of territory, then returned quickly to a perch, and with tail cocked upward, sang the incessant and lively song - “sweet sweet sweet seesWEETchew” - or perhaps “witew, witew, witew, WEECHEW.”

In his years of roaming eastern North America, Audubon only saw the Chestnut-sided Warbler one time. But with the forests cleared, and then the clearings abandoned, the Chestnut-sided has thrived. In the thickets, the young second-growth deciduous woods, and the brushy edges, it is now one of our most common warblers.

In the last few days I have heard him singing along roadways, beneath power lines, and near neglected fields. When he pauses to grab an insect and changes his perch, then I can find him with my binoculars and watch as he quivers with song. He is white underneath, with prominent chestnut sides. His back is dark, his cheeks white. He has white wing bars and a sporty yellow-crown.

I would like to tell you that there is nothing quite so breathtaking as the Chestnut-sided Warbler. But this is warbler season, the season when one must take deliberate time-outs to breath.

I was in the mountains in mixed pine, spruce, and deciduous forest. The leaves were just beginning to emerge. From the tree tops I heard a rising buzz that dropped over the top and knew that there was a northern nesting warbler overhead. He perched on a bare branch. He had a bluish back. His beak lifted, displaying his yellow throat with an orange breastband - Northern Parula. “Oh my!!” I breathed out, almost forgetting to breath back in.

There was other movement in the tree top. I moved my binoculars a half glass to the left.  A burst of brilliant flame orange flared in my field of view - “Oh my!” He sang: “tsi, tsi, tsi, tsi, tsi, ti, ti, ti, ti, seeeeee.” - a Blackburnian Warbler proclaiming his virtues, his flaming orange throat needing no sunlight to flash brilliantly.

Young spruce were thick and impenetrable along an old logging road, but birds were foraging through the branches, and pausing to sing a short, musical, “weeta, weeta, weeteo.” One stood on the end of a spruce branch - yellow throat and breast highlighted with a thick black necklace and black streaks down his side. He flashed white wing bars and white spots on his tail. “Oh my!!” - Magnolia Warbler.

I phished to bring him out from cover. He came to investigate. Down also came a Yellow-rumped Warbler, brilliant black and white with bright yellow sides, flashing his “butter-butt” when he flew. “Oh my!! You are handsome when you dress for the ladies. I hope they’re as impressed as I am.”

In a brushy thicket of aspen and birch along another old logging road, “flash dancers” hurried about, long tails spread to display bright orange against black. Perching, they make me think of a miniature oriole - American Redstart. “Oh my!”

The wood warblers which inhabit our eastern forests are the envy of birders from around the world. It is no wonder ... because they are a wonder. Most spend only a few months in the north, coming up from the tropics to benefit from the rich protein resources of our temperature summers - protein in the form of mosquitos, flies, insects, creepy crawlies and such like. They come attired in their breeding plumage, breathtaking with their crisp patterns and often splashy colors.

From the higher elevations of the mountains, I came down to a marshy area in the valley where I was greeted by “sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet.” The Yellow Warbler is a common inhabitant of shrubs, hedgegrows and thicket edges. He often gets short shrift from birders searching for the harder to find species. I phished him onto a branch and he scolded me, this flittering bundle of sunlight - brilliant yellow with bright red streaks on his breast and flanks. In the bright light his throat seemed to glow with a tint of orange - “Oh my!!”

And let’s not overlook the Common Yellowthroat. He is as deserving of our time as any other tree top or thicket dwelling warbler. This black-masked little rogue with the yellow throat and olive back inhabits the damp brush. He’s secretive, but when agitated, he moves with the energy of the House Wren and the curiosity of a catbird. If his antics don’t bring a smile to your face as he flits about and tries to warn you away, then I suspect you’ve got a serious case of “taking life too seriously” and probably taking yourself too seriously as well.

It’s mid-morning now, and through my study window I hear the Chestnut-sided Warbler still singing, bragging to the ladies nearby. Like so many of the songbirds, there are different mnemonics  suggested by different writers to help in identifying song. The most familiar mnemonic captures the cadence of song, though not necessarily the musical quality. “Please Please Please to MEETCHOU.”

Yes indeed - I am pleased to meet you, too - and all the others of your family who brighten our spring woodlands.