Over-wintering Warblers in WNC

Published 7:51 pm Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Here in western North Carolina, we do not see many warblers during the winter months. This is, of course, due to several facts, including the cold winter temperatures, lack of suitable food and also because most species have migrated further south to escape the winter.

There is one exception to this rule and that is the Yellow-rumped Warbler, previously known as the Myrtle Warbler. This species is a common migrant and winter visitor throughout most of the Carolinas. However, it is far more common along the coastline. Should we have a mild winter, there is always the chance of some other semi-hardy warbler wintering this far west, and in the past, local birdwatchers have found both Pine and Palm Warblers in Henderson and Polk Counties during the winter months.

Warblers are amongst the smallest birds in the U.S. and are considered to be the gems of the bird world by many North American birders. There are about 55 species that occur north of the Rio Grande River in Texas, with about 25 species nesting here in the Southern Appalachians. An additional 10 species pass through our area during spring and fall migrations, making western North Carolina an excellent place to look for these birds during the warmer months.

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You are far more likely to see additional wintering warblers further south in the U.S. and good places to look for them are the semi-tropical woodlands in south Florida. Here, many birds spend the winter and it is possible to see over 15 species in a few days.

On a recent working trip to the Tampa area with a side-trip to the Florida Everglades, we managed to see a very nice number of warblers, which gave us a little bite of spring, while the ice and cold still predominated here in the Carolinas. Walking the somewhat mosquito-infested trails through the mangrove swamps was always profitable and there always seemed to be black-and-white, Northern Parula Warblers and American Redstarts mixed in with the vast quantities of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.

White-eyed Vireos sang from the thickets and a few Ovenbirds walked quietly on the forest floor. It was also very informative to watch and study both Northern and Louisiana Waterthrushes. The former winter predominantly in mangrove forests in Central America and the Caribbean, while the Louisiana winters along rivers and faster flowing waters. However, it wont be long before we should see or hear our first waterthrush back here in the Carolinas, and then week by week more warblers and other species will be flying north as spring, warmth and food progress northwards.

As for this year, I hope the birds cooperate and that we have a good crowd of folks out scouring the fields and woodlands.

Heres to good weather also, a very important factor indeed.

Simon Thompson has lived in WNC for the past 16 years. He owns and operates his own birding tour company, Ventures Birding Tours. WWW.birdventures.com.

If you have birding questions, please drop me an e-mail at the above site.~ The Bird Box written by Simon Thompson