Spring migration in south Texas was so good that I am still going through batches of images I took while warblers hopped around my feet and hundreds of orioles fluttered in the bushes. One of my biggest highlights was my first ever shot of a Swainson’s Warbler,
Although this bird might not look nearly as pretty as other wood-warblers, birders count themselves lucky indeed to see this little brown-capped bird. It’s a very tough bird to see in the dense, swampy habitats it prefers.
The Kentucky Warbler also occurs in understory habitats but is far easier to see than the Swainson’s and has much brighter colors. This is a fairly common migrant in south Texas and breeds in many parts of the southern and eastern United States.
Another understory species that is also pretty easy to see during spring migration is the Ovenbird.
The Ovenbird gets its name from its nest, a rounded structure placed on the ground and shaped like a Dutch oven. These thrush-like warblers walk on the forest floor with deliberate steps and their tail cocked up. This behavior makes them look a bit like a rail or miniature chicken!
Unlike the Ovenbird, to see the striking Cape May Warbler, you usually have to look high up in the canopy.
Cape May Warblers can be tough to photograph because they aren’t as common as other species and tend to stay high up in the vegetation. They breed far to the north in the coniferous forests of Canada and Minnesota and raise several broods during spruce budworm outbreaks.
It’s a lot easier to get pictures of Chestnut-sided Warblers because they are much more common than Cape Mays and prefer bushes, second growth, and low vegetation.
This beautiful warbler is apparently much more common now than when Audubon roamed the North American wilderness. According to his notes, it was one of the rarest of bird species! The Chestnut-sided Warbler has increased in numbers since the early 19th century because much more of its preferred second growth habitat has become available.
Western Tanagers are regular on migration in southern Texas but these beautiful birds are always a highlight!
Summer Tanagers are more common but always nice to see. I hope to see a few on an upcoming family reunion on the Neches River in east Texas.
With luck, I will also see Swainson’s Warbler and Prothonotary Warbler in those piney woods and cypress swamps.