Swamp Warblers

March 24, 2014, continued.  I see another sign of spring higher up in a tall cypress by the boardwalk – a yellow-throated warbler. This high canopy dweller, preferring tall pines, cypress, cherrybark oak, sycamore, and other tall trees in the swamp, is a handsome guy, with its black-and-white markings and lemon-yellow breast. They spend the winter to the south of us, perhaps overlapping the range of the white-eyed vireo, and are one of our earliest returning migrants, sometimes commencing its song from tall swamp pines in February in mild winters.

I sit for a few minutes on a low boardwalk bench and am rewarded with a close view of a black- and-white warbler creeping over the trunk of a nearby small tupelo. It’s paying special attention to the moss side of the tree where it finds small morsels of edibles that I cannot make out. It’s amazing to see how handsome a bird with nothing but black and white colors can be. Just after the black-and-white flies off, I see the real harbinger of a Congaree spring, the Northern parula warbler. A male is foraging eight-to-ten feet off the ground in the still-green foliage of a laurel oak sapling. It has only just arrived within the past few days. As with many of our spring arrivals, the males get here first to stake out the best territories for the soon-to-follow females.

The diminutive parula is by far the most abundant, as well as the smallest (weighing about as much as a penny and a nickel combined) breeding bird at Congaree. My previous bird research had shown that they are packed in here like sardines with territories of only an acre or so. They prefer the hardwood canopy or subcanopy, especially old growth trees with Spanish moss, which they nest and forage in, but like some other canopy dwellers, descend to lower levels to forage in midday.

On the way back, in the muck swamp along the low boardwalk, I flush another sign that spring is here at last, a Louisiana waterthrush. This atypical member of the warbler tribe spends a lot of time on the ground, much like thrushes do, in swampy terrain infrequented by people. Its loud, musical song more than makes up for its stealthy and retiring ways.

Northern Parula Warbler by Ted Schantz