Tuesday, June 19, 2007

571 + 1

A couple of weeks ago, we blogged about bird listing and Warren's thoughts about having gotten to the point in life where he can say he has seen 571 bird species.

Well, 572 came quicker than we expected--and what a bird it was!

save the cerulean warbler

That's him right up there, Dendroica Cerulea, a Cerulean Warbler. This is one of those birds you dream about, hear others talk about, look at in bird guides, and wonder when and where you will see it -- knowing full well that it is a declining species.

According to the American Bird Conservancy, this little guy winters high in the Andes Mountains, where its habitat is threatened by the conversion of traditional coffee growing practices to "sun coffee" plantations stripped of trees. (The coffee is worse, too). Its population is believed to have declined 70% since the 1960s, and that decline continues at 4% per year.

It has been called America's fastest-declining neotropical migratory songbird. (That's a bird that migrates from the tropics each spring to North America to mate and breed, and then heads home in the fall). We think of them as ours, but really they are just visitors.

Lisa and I identified our first Cerulean Warbler last Saturday, while hiking in some mature forests in the Appalachian mountains just northeast of Harrisburg. It is probably no accident that we found the bird in a small conservation area, and not in the adjacent State Hunting Lands, managed forest where more human activity is allowed.

We worked hard for this bird. We heard a bird or two in the trees above us, including one that sounded unfamiliar. Lisa "pished" - making a sound that rarely fails to attract curious birds closer. This bird came a little closer, but not very close. It flitted about frustratingly in the dense foliage, giving us quick views of its underside - I saw mostly white, with a blue-grey necklace. Its song was distinct, but unfamiliar - and by now, Lisa and I know the calls of most of the summer birds in the Appalachians.

This was clearly not a bird we knew. We listened to the bird--and then a second one, farther away--calling again from the high tree tops. We studied our bird guide and ruled out any other warbler based on visual ID. We recorded its sound, using the video mode on our small digital camera, holding it up to the trees. We finished the last mile of our hike, drove to an Outbacks in York, PA for a steak dinner, and drove back to Annapolis with anticipation. We fired up the computer and listened to the sound of a Cerulean, as recorded by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. That nailed it! No doubts left.

Our fellow blogger, A DC Birding Blog, has a lovely illustration of a Cerulean Warbler on his blog's banner.

So, they are not just numbers after all. Certainly, this bird is worth preserving--in some numbers.

1 comment:

John B. said...

Congratulations on the lifer. It's a lovely bird.