May is my favorite month in my favorite season. One reason I am so fond of May is that I really love the feeling of rejuvenation and seeing the circle of life beginning anew. As a birder, May means migration; especially warbler migration.
As a photographer, trying to capture all of the various species of warblers presents quite a challenge and fore very decent picture I get, there are a lot of pictures that are relegated to the trash bin. Lighting is often less than desirable, angles can be difficult and they never stop moving. As frustrating as it can be, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For me, there is nothing like getting out to a nice forested place (preferably with a small stream nearby) early on a May morning and witnessing the nights migrating warblers descending at that location and begin feeding to replenish after the nights flight. During a good morning, it is not unusual to see between 18-20 species of warblers in mixed flocks. It can be hard to stay focused on one bird as another will distract you and steal your attention, then another and another!
One thing I can say is that no words I can come up with can adequately describe the wonder of witnessing such an event. I spend eleven months of the year dreaming of the May warbler migration and one month living it! Don’t get me wrong, the migration of all birds is incredible and begins for some species in April. The fall warbler migration is also an incredible time of year and one I cherish as well, but nothing beats the spring migration with warblers in their breeding plumage and on their way north to their breeding grounds.
The following images are some of my favorites from May 2016. I begin with the Yellow-throated Warbler which was one of four target warblers during a trip to Wyalusing State Park in Southwestern Wisconsin on the Mississippi River. The second picture shows a male gathering spider webs as nest building material which created quite a stir with the Wisconsin Breeding Atlas folks.
I had a good year with Prothonotary Warblers, seeing many in different locations, including Wyalusing where it was another of my target warblers.
The Cerulean Warbler was another of four target species at Wyalusing. I only got one good picture though.
The fourth of the target warblers at Wyalusing was the Kentucky Warbler which we saw two of. A great trip indeed!
I was able to see a Prairie Warbler at the Scuppernong Ski Trail which was a fantastic find for me. This is a rather rare visitor to Wisconsin.
The Black-throated Green Warbler is a fairly common one during the May migration but is vibrantly colored so always a joy to see.
The Palm Warbler is one of the first migrants to return to Wisconsin but always gives me great photographic opportunities.
The aptly named Chestnut-sided Warbler is a real beauty. Another fairly common migrant, but I am not complaining!
The Black-and-white Warbler acts more like a creeper and tends to stay in poorly lit areas, making it difficult to photograph despite being a common warbler.
I finally decided the only way I was going to get a decent picture of a Northern Waterthrush was by sitting on a creek bank in tall grass and waiting for one to come to me. They are virtually impossible to sneak up on. It worked and I was able to capture two of them actively feeding in the creek.
The American Redstart, which is actually orange, is another common warbler but a beauty nonetheless. While I lay in wait of the Northern Waterthrush, I had several flitting around me. The second picture is a female redstart.
The Northern Parula is guaranteed to quicken the pulse! My best looks ever.
The Golden-winged Warbler is another aptly named bird. I had some fantastic looks at a few on the Glacial Drumlin trail in Waukesha County.
One of my favorites is the Magnolia Warbler. How can you not love this beauty?!
The Wilson’s Warbler is one of the last May migrants. By Warbler standards, it may seem bland but I still love them.
The Yellow Warbler is another real beauty although perhaps a bit more subtly so than other species. It is also one of the two most common summer warblers in Southern Wisconsin.
I was able to find the Lost City Hooded Warbler this year! A first for me, I was super excited to see it.
My personal favorite is the Blackburnian Warbler. So striking with its orange, black and white coloring. It has also proven to be a difficult bird for me to get good photos of. This was the best I got this year.
The Cape May Warbler is another bird that increases the pulse for me. It also gave me good looks while I was on the Glacial Drumlin Trail.
The Common Yellowthroat is the other common warbler in Southeastern Wisconsin but is just elusive enough to present some photographic challenges.