Kindling Neighborly Connections between People and Nature.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Brewster's warbler at Woodland Park (May 13th, 2020)

Golden beams illumined every newly emerging leaf of shrub and tree at Woodland Park this morning.  The forest floor was still a little damp from recent rains, which allowed me to saunter through the forest a little more quietly than usual. Making my way under a canopy of mature maples, with every step I was counting my blessings...scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, Baltimore orioles, a small flock of three chestnut-sided warblers, and ovenbirds galore! Yes, counting my blessings and any lover of wild spaces like me would count these above mentioned as more than enough!

Then, from the mid-story of the forest my attentive ears picked up the distinct buzzy song of a blue-winged warbler; "zeee-BRRRRR!" The blue-winged is a truly beautiful bird; bright yellow body with blue wings and a contrasting black stripe through both eyes. I oriented skywards, scanning the canopy expecting to see a brilliant flash of yellow. I could see a small flock moving about in the branches above me, gleaning insects from the newly opening leaves. Typically the yellow coloration of the warbler I thought I was looking for stands out, but not so in this case. Was there a branch obstructing my sight? With my eyes I picked up a black-capped chickadee, one, two, three chestnut-sided warblers, and another bird...what's that? focusing on that mystery bird with my 8 x 42 Nikon  binoculars I noted a warbler shaped body and spiky bill, a whitish belly, some yellow on the breast, and a dark eye-stripe. It let out another "zeee-BRRRRR!" and flipped itself upside-down  as it dangled by its toes thirty feet above the forest floor at the end of a branch to pick at some unfortunate insect that must have been hiding on the underside of the leaf. I could see this bird had a gray back, yellow wing bars, and a bold yellow forehead. I knew immediately it was a blue-winged x golden-winged warbler hybrid; Brewster's warbler is the name given to this particular form. What a gift it was this morning to be able to observe this rare bird, which is, hands down the rarest bird I've seen at this location in the five years that I've lived in the area.

Brewster's warbler
I followed this mixed flock composed of three chestnut-sided warblers and a Brewster's all through Woodland Park for about 15 minutes. As they made their way through the middle to upper levels of deciduous trees with this bird nerd in tow, I imagined that they'd welcomed be to integrate as part of their group. I don't eat bugs and I don't have wings, but I can whistle a tune so maybe that counts for something.

From the location where all of the main trails meet, we made our way towards the tower and then along the field edge bordering honeysuckle bushes. From there it was along the wooded hillside and then quickly through the pines and all the way down to the complete opposite corner of the park where Siemans and Bryden Streets meet. From my perspective we covered that half-a-mile relatively quickly, and of course, the going was much easier for them than it was for me.

My route, following the Brewster's and chestnut-sided warblers for 15 minutes.
One of the chestnut-sided warblers.
It was intriguing how closely the Brewster's hybrid was associating with these three chestnut-sided warblers. It begs the question, what common traits motivate them to integrate like this? Is it that Brewster's and chestnut-sided warblers both have a yellow cap, black around the eyes, and a whitish belly? It's got to be about more than similar dietary preferences; after all there were at least five additional species of warbler flitting about Woodland Park that were not associating as closely with either of these two species anywhere near as much as Brewster's and chestnut-sided's were associating with each other.

Wondering about this as I sauntered along, I continued counting my blessings, filled with thankfulness that Brewster's warbler made that list today.

To have had such a wonderful experience in this little town park with so great a diversity of winged neighbors which included the rarest I've ever encountered here, I feel like Jacob's favored son Joseph; showered with amazing gifts (in Joseph's case, a beautiful robe; in my case, special experiences with wildlife and wild spaces) not because of anything I've done to deserve it but because I am loved. Is it coincidence that some of my most notable experiences in wild spaces often coincide with my taking time to retreat so I can be intentional about nurturing my relationship with the Source of Divine Creativity?

For someone who has determined that his personal mission statement in life is to inspire spiritual and cultural transformation through connection with wild spaces, with the help of God and neighbor, to create a world where wildlife and wild spaces are known as neighbors worthy of love, kindness, compassion and care, moments like this morning's encounter with a Brewster's warbler and his companions is call-affirming.

Still counting my blessings.

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