Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 18: Prairie Warbler

This morning I led a small group on a bird walk at Coastal Mountains Land Trust's Head of Tide Preserve in Belfast. We began our outing by walking along the power line corridor that bisects the preserve, primarily because I knew we'd find prairie warblers there. Not only had at least two birder friends reported seeing them there in the past two weeks, but I myself had come across a few on a short visit to the preserve on Sunday. So I wanted to start our walk with an interesting bird, with something out of the ordinary for midcoast Maine.

Prairie warbler is a misnomer, as the birds are not found on prairies. Instead, they prefer shrubby grasslands and forest edges. For the past few years I've been hearing them sing from bushes amid the blueberry barrens of Beech Hill in Rockport, for example. And they're a common nesting species at Kennebunk Plains in southern Maine. While finding them this far up the coast is unusual, finding them along a power line corridor is not. And as was the case today, you can often follow the cut and hear one bird after another singing in its established space.

It's a pretty bird, primarily yellow with black streaks on its side and a distinctive black facial pattern. Similar to the palm warbler, it also wags its tail frequently. But the most notable thing about this warbler is its song, the buzzy notes of which ascend quickly, as if moving up a scale. (If I were a musician I'm sure I could describe the song in a more technically accurate way.) Have a listen (you've got to scroll down a little bit to click on the song). It's unique and easily recognizable--the first prairie I ever found I identified without even seeing the bird first, because I'd heard a recording of its voice and it stuck with me. I remember thinking that it sounded like the bird was getting ready to blast off at the end of his song.

Buzzy yellow bird,
as your song ascends the scale,
my spirits rise too.

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