A Warbler Chaser’s Dream


This week’s photo, taken May 14, 2013 at Magee Marsh in Ohio, features a KIRTLAND’S WARBLER, North America’s rarest warbler.

The Kirtland’s Warbler is smart enough to spend the winter in the Bahamas. Then in the spring, it migrates more than a thousand miles to its breeding grounds in north-central Michigan. About 50 years ago, only a few hundred Kirtland’s existed, and the species was at risk of extinction. Fortunately, thanks to successful human efforts to manage the warbler’s breeding habitat in Michigan, the population has increased more than ten-fold since 1987. That’s encouraging, but 10 times a small number is still a relatively small number.

At noon on our second day at Magee Marsh, we learn that a female KIRTLAND’S WARBLER has been found in vegetation along the east beach. So we immediately head in that direction. After trudging along the shore of Lake Erie for a 1/4 mile, we have no difficulty finding our target bird. We simply locate the 75 birders bunched together in a tight semi-circle, each person aiming either binoculars or a camera at the bird that all warbler chasers dream of checking off their life list.

For the next hour, we as a group move as an amoeba, frequently changing shape as we try to keep up with our constantly moving specimen. Sometimes, it feeds on the ground, and sometimes it leaps from the ground to snatch insects from the undersides of leaves. Most of the time, it travels quickly within a tangle of branches, while frustrated photographers strain and struggle to capture an unobstructed image. The Kirtland’s Warbler seldom comes out into the open, but when it does, the resultant sound of rapid-fire clicking of cameras is reminiscent of paparazzi working the red carpet at the Academy Awards.

To view 7 of my warbler photos from Magee Marsh, click on:


Below are the 27 warblers I observed at Magee Marsh, May 13-17 (followed by a short list of non-warblers I enjoyed):

Northern Parula

Orange-crowned Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Kirtland’s Warbler

Palm Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

American Redstart


Northern Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

Mourning Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

Wilson’s Warbler

Canada Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Some other interesting birds I observed include:

American Woodcock

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Black-billed Cuckoo

Great Horned Owl

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Scarlet Tanager


About Joe Sweeney

I photograph birds to share the beauty and wonder I find in nature.
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7 Responses to A Warbler Chaser’s Dream

  1. Freda Papoff says:

    Nice! I saw a male Kirkland on the beach when I was there. Ken Kaufman found it. It was just when we were leaving on our last day there. Suddenly the parking lot emptied and we followed a short distance and a longer walk to a similar semi circle. Nice list. I’m still working on mine. Funny year. Slow but steady. Then yesterday I saw 16 species at a local park in an hour! Got a Wilson’s but still want a Canada. Tennessee, blue and golden winged are ones I got that you don’t but you have several I missed this year (prothonotary, Kirklands, mourning, Louisiana waterthrush) Females are coming now and leaves are fully out so my warbler days are almost over. Happy birding!

    Sent from my iPad

  2. susan hunter says:

    Hi Joe, thanks for sharing your Warbler experience with us. Warbler Mania has over taken NH with our unusual weather pattern causing them first to be late and then to arrive all at once and get stuck here!! But, alas no Kirktland’s Warbler! Best, Susan H

  3. jere mcinerney says:

    what a blessing to be on your blog list….thank you joe for such a beautiful description of your birding adventures…..this is the first time i’ve seen your scrapbook of bird pictures with the names….i have a new goal….learn at least one a week?

  4. Chris says:

    Joe, 20 of those would be life birds for me.

  5. Mary Friestedt says:

    AWESOME!! You rock, Joe!


    Sent from my iPhone

  6. Cyndy Henderson says:

    Joe, I sure enjoyed today’s warbler, wonderful story! Am enjoying your Flickr link, too … wow,
    very impressive compilation of your fine photographs. Keep on birding!!

    Cyndy H.

  7. Nina Doggett says:

    Joe: How very exciting! Gene and I have noted your great success in Ohio and have put it on the future birding list As you may remember we saw a Kirtland’s warbler in Michigan in their nesting area and also in the Bahamas on an island in the Abacos- very fleetingly! Cheers, Nina

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