By: Jim Spencer
Having left the tropics, warblers are on their way to their nesting grounds up north, and some will migrate through Austin in May. This month’s strong southern breezes are like a conveyor belt. They can carry these small songbirds, which normally fly 10-30 mph, at ground speeds approaching 90 mph across the Gulf of Mexico, according to one migration researcher. This significantly reduces the energy needed to make the six-hundred mile trans-Gulf journey.
Warblers including the American Redstart, Magnolia, Blackburnian, Chestnut-sided, Bay-breasted and Yellow will be coming from faraway places such as Brazil and Peru. These birds don’t always announce themselves, so it’s necessary to look for them. The Blackburnian and American Redstart forage high in the canopy, while the Yellow, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided and Bay-breasted are more easily seen in mid-story trees and shrubs at eye level or higher. Search along wooded creeks and greenbelts where native trees like oaks and hackberries grow, and listen for unfamiliar songs like the “sweet, sweet, sweet I’m so sweet” of the Yellow Warbler.
Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website to hear recordings of the species’ songs. BirdCastlooks at the weather forecast and projects bird movements across the U.S. during this peak season. Stormy weather may cause the birds to stop a little longer than planned, much like humans experience flight delays at the airport. Getting outside just after a rain storm might allow you glimpses of birds you otherwise might miss.
The Prothonotary Warbler is a bright yellow warbler of southern swamps, slow moving rivers, and flooded bottomland forests. In the south it is an early migrant, but a part of the population ventures further north into states such as Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio — those birds are still on the move. While most warblers build their own nests, the Prothonotary uses old woodpecker or chickadee nest holes. In the Austin area it is a very rare breeder.
Beginner Bird Walk: Big Webberville Park May 4, 7:30 a.m. -9:30 a.m. Webberville Park is located in far eastern Travis County in the small, rural community of Webberville, approximately 30 minutes from Austin. The Colorado River provides the southern and eastern boundaries.
The park features the flat, gentle terrain typical of the Blackland Prairies, with plenty of large oak and pecan trees that offer shade and nest sites for many birds, including Warbling Vireos, Eastern Bluebirds and occasionally Prothonotary Warblers. Bald Eagles nest nearby and are usually seen flying overhead.
Hornsby Bend Monthly Bird Walk May 18, 7:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. 2210 FM 973, Austin, TX. Hornsby is located just a little northeast of the airport off Hwy 71. Join us to explore Austin’s premier birding site. All levels of birders are welcome and no registration is required. Meet in front of the Center for Environmental Research. Wear closed toe shoes or boots and dress for the weather.