This was the first year that I specifically put forth a good effort to photograph many of the warblers that can be found in the North-east in the spring. I've known for many years that many species nest in the area and even more migrate through. During this time of year they are all sporting their best breeding colors and the males are usually quite brilliant. While I didn't add many new species to my life list this year I did however finally get a lot of photos I'm very proud of with many different species of warbler. I put together this collection of some of my favorites that include 14 different warbler species. I managed to photograph 22 different species this year but didn't get great photo of every species. That just means I have some warbler goals for next spring.
I kicked off the warbler season with a visit to Baldpate Mountain in Titusville, New Jersey. It's a location I've visited a few times just to hike but had never really tried any bird photography there. It turned out to be a great place to start. It was late April and I wasn't sure what to expect but after a few hours walking around in the rain I came upon a spot with a good number of Black and White Warblers. I've photographed this species countless times in the past and had a few decent photos but this particular morning turned out to be amazing for photography. The birds were hanging out in some Redbud Trees so I was able to get some wonderful spring colors in with this striking monotone warbler species. It was a great way to start the spring and turned out to be a sign of the season to come for me.
Less then a week after my visit to Baldpate Mountain I made a trip to John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. I didn't have a specific target on this trip but wandered around just seeing what I could find. After starting that morning with an incredible close encounter with a very friendly Red-tailed Hawk I found a few Yellow Warblers. I was lucky enough to capture one in a white blossoming tree which really gave it that spring feel. I spent a while longer photographing these brilliant yellow warblers on many different branches, often singing their hearts out.
I finished up my morning at John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge with the handsome Palm Warbler pictured below, surrounded by fresh spring greenery. This is another species I've seen many times but don't often get photos of them that I love.
The next outing took me back into Pennsylvania this time a bit further north of Philadelphia just 4 days after my last trip. I met up with 3 great friends and we spent a morning specifically chasing Blue-winged Warblers. Prior to this outing I had only caught quick glimpses of this species with its fancy black mask. Oddly enough we spent a few hours photographing them, they were all over the place, but I only got a couple of decent shots. They were just very fast moving and never quite landed in an open spot for me. I did manage the one below of it singing out on a pretty branch with more spring blossoms. This was getting towards the end of when I would have any chance to photograph warblers with spring blossoms. I didn't know it at the time but I would have another chance with these warblers in a few weeks.
Less then a week later in early May I was back out with some friends again at Delaware State Forest up in far north-eastern Pennsylvania. This time our goal was the spectacular Golden-winged Warbler which is one that I had not previously seen. My great friend and amazing photographer Scott Keys knew the spot to take us and we had a few of these warblers singing in front of us before long. This species wasn’t particularly cooperative and the sun was coming out at times so the light was a bit stronger then I usually like but I still managed to get a few photos I liked.
After an hour or so working with the Golden-wings we moved along to a new spot and came upon the most cooperative Chestnut-sided Warbler I've ever seen. This is in my opinion one of the most striking multi-colored warblers in the area. Between the bold black and white mask, bright yellow crown with yellow accents on the wings and rust colored chest that gives it its name, it all comes together to make a beautiful bird. We all had a blast photographing this warbler and it wasn't long before we had the photos we wanted and we wrapped up the day shortly after.
The day after the excellent Golden-winged trip I made a quick trip to a local park in southern New Jersey with my sister who was visiting from Florida. I wasn't really expecting much but as we were driving into the park I heard a Scarlet Tanager calling so we stopped. Not long after we stopped a Pine Warbler made an appearance and came down nice and low in nearly perfect soft sunlight. This bird gave me by far my best portrait of that species. For a last minute outing I was thrilled to capture such a nice Pine Warbler.
Two days later I managed to get out again, this time with another species in mind. I met up with another good friend Pete Volkmar and we went in search of a Prothonotary Warbler at a spot in southern New Jersey taht I'd been to many times before but never had any luck. In the beginning of that trip however we came upon another even more cooperative Pine Warbler then the bird from the previous days. I was so happy with the photo I had captured above that I didn't think I would get much better so soon. When this Pine Warbler landed on a pine cone I knew I had just gotten better. After about half an hour we moved on in search of the Prothonotary.
After a good bit of walking through some wet swampy areas I caught my first glimpse of one. I saw the flash of orangy-yellow in the lush green swamp and knew right away it was the bird we were after. We proceeded to spend a couple hours just hanging out and watching a male and female pair working the area feeding on any insect or worm they could find. Pete eventually had to leave and I spent another 30-40 minutes with the birds. It was just me and this pair of brilliant yellow Prothonotary Warblers in the swamp. I'll probably never forget that day. At one point the male settled down on a mossy log and didn't move for nearly 10 minutes. I was able to slowly crawl in very close, then backed up for a more scenic view and he never moved. After he rested for a bit he popped up onto a branch with tiny green leaves and sang away, a perfect ending to an incredible day.
In mid May I found myself in far northern New Jersey for a few days for my sister-in-law's wedding. My wife was very involved with the wedding so I had a few hours here and there to try and find more warblers. On the afternoon we arrived I snuck away for a bit to wander the Appalachian Trail in the small town of Vernon, New Jersey. I went to a spot less then a mile from my brother-in-law's house where I was staying and as soon as I stepped out of the car I heard the unmistakable call of an American Redstart. I got my gear together and walked through a small tree line at the edge of the dirt parking lot and found myself in an open swampy field with a few sporadic trees. It didn't take long to spot this handsome male Redstart flitting around the field and calling nearly non-stop. I set up near one of the smaller trees that had fresh spring growth on it and waited. The light was a perfect soft overcast and when he landed right in front of me I fired away. I was practically jumping when I saw the image below on the back of my screen. This species has taunted and teased me for many years and I finally had the shot I was looking for. I hiked along the trail a bit more and found another small somewhat open wooded area with a Blue-winged Warbler and spent some time with this bird. This was my second time photographing this species this year and this time around it went much better. I spent no more then 15 minutes with this bird and ended up walking away with photos I was more pleased with then the 3-4 hours I spent trying to photograph this species earlier in the year.
The morning of the wedding again my wife was busy helping her sister prepare so I took the opportunity to head out for an early morning outing. I had heard about Old Mine Road in the Delaware Water Gap area of New Jersey for years and decided to give it a try. When I arrived that morning I found the first pull-off along the road the stepped out of the car to more singing warblers then I'd ever heard in my life. It was mid-May and the forest was filled with warblers. I heard American Redstarts, Pine Warblers, Hooded Warblers, Worm-eating Warblers and one that stood out to me, a Cerulean Warbler. My friend Scott had taken me to photograph them in the previous year but I didn't have much luck on that trip. I decided to try and spend some time in this area to see if I could get a decent shot at them. There seemed to be a pair hanging around and after about an hour or so I managed to get a few shots of them. They certainly have a very unique color in the warbler world and the interesting blue stood out nicely in all the green foliage.
After I tired of craning my neck up to look at these birds I continued on further down the road. I eventually stopped at a spot and spent some time with the somewhat drab but still fun Worm-eating Warbler. For my first time ever seeing this species I could not have been happier with the photos I captured of it. It was time to head back to attend the wedding and I left with a smile on my face.
It was a little more then a week before my next warbler outing, I'd done a shorebird trip with Scott in between. It was now nearing the end of May and a few friends had told me about another location to try for a Canada Warbler. This was yet another species I'd seen and photographed but never got any great shots of. I set aside an entire day and took the nearly 3 hour drive up into north-eastern Pennsylvania again. This would turn out to be my last warbler trip of the season and one of my top 3 days chasing warblers. I arrived not long after sunrise to heavy overcast skies and a dark forest. I drove along a dirt road with the windows down listening for anything. It wasn't long before I heard the call of a Canada Warbler. I parked the car and began waiting. After a bit I noticed some movement deep in the bushes. Then, there it was, a beautiful male Canada Warbler jumped out of the shrubbery and onto an open branch. I would spend the next 1.5 hours with a male and female pair of Canada Warblers, watching and photographing them as they went about their daily routine. After getting to see this warbler up close and personal I think they have become one of my favorite. The male's vibrant yellow with contrasting black necklace and slate gray back and wings is quite the color combination.
I reluctantly moved along to see what else I could find in this area. I came across a nice group of Black-throated Blue Warblers while driving along the road and tried for a short period of time to photograph them before they all moved on. Next I came upon a trail and decided to give that a walk. While hiking along the trail I came across a small clearing that had a nice mix of warblers. Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Blue and 4 Magnolia Warblers all in the same area. I concentrated on the Magnolias since they were a species I was yearning for a good photo of. I never managed to get anything amazing but I was happy with a few of the shots. Most of these birds however did not have the strong breeding colors so I still have to improve upon that species next year.
While hanging out in this clearing I all of a sudden heard a different higher pitched call. I thought for a moment I caught a flash of orange and a moment later the brilliant Blackburnian Warbler made an appearance. It was a beautiful male with strong markings and a crazy bright orange head and chest. This was my first time seeing more then just a passing glimpse of this species and to see that orange in person is something else. I followed this individual bird around for a while and eventually ended up climbing about 15 feet up in a tree to try and capture it at eye level. At one point while I was in the tree it landed about 3 feet from my head. It was way to close for me to photograph so I just sat there admiring this incredible bird. I finally got very uncomfortable being in the tree and gave up on that endeavor even though it seemed sort of promising. I did manage a few eye level shots from up there which was fun. On my way back to my car I stopped at the same clearing with the Magnolias again and oddly enough the Blackburnian seemed to follow me and showed up at that spot. Of course at this point it landed nice and low and gave me the eye level shot below that didn't require climbing in a tree! It was a great ending to an incredible outing and a great way to wrap up my spring 2017 warbler season. I'm already looking forward to next spring and trying for more of these beautiful and challenging songbirds.