Sunday, September 28, 2008

Presenting the Worst Photo of a Blackburnian Warbler in the History of the World!

Forrest Gump famously said that life was like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get.

This, of course, is a terrible analogy: boxes of chocolates always come with ingredient lists, some sort of description on the box, and/or those cute little fold-out picture guides telling you which shape corresponds to which filling. Unless you're borderline illiterate (like poor Forest), you'll know exactly what you're going to get.

He should have made his analogy about birding. Now THAT'S maddeningly, yet enticingly, unpredictable. Today's Alachua Audubon field trip to Palm Point was a case in point.

We assembled at nearby Powers Park, mostly because there was adequate parking (the plan was to carpool to Palm Point). I'd never had much luck finding stuff at Powers, and my impression was that local birders didn't think of it as much of a hotspot either: most people I've run into consider it a pretty place to stop by on the way home from Palm Point if they need a restroom or just didn't feel like going home yet.

But when I got there this morning, about 20 minutes before the group was supposed to meet, the normally quiet trees leading down to a boat ramp and boardwalk were noisy with birds: dozens of Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice chased each other through the cypresses and clung to tufts of Spanish moss. Within minutes, I spotted a Yellow-throated Warbler and an American Redstart. When the rest of the group arrived, we almost immediately spotted a Tennessee Warbler and a large flock of Chimney Swifts (both lifers for me!) A Yellow-billed Cuckoo sat sedately in a treetop, eating caterpillars.

And it kept getting better. The warblers kept rolling (okay, flying) in: Yellow, Hooded, Common Yellowthroat, Ovenbird, Northern Parula, Northern Waterthrush, Prairie... and best of all, a very bold and pretty Blackburnian Warbler, a relative rarity in this area, and another lifer for me! He/she darted low in a tree by the boardwalk, even hopping briefly onto the boardwalk's handrail (only about 6 feet from us) before flying off. I fumbled with my camera while trying to keep the bird in my sights, but couldn't manage to get a shot.

We were all happy and excited as we moved on to Palm Point: if things were this good at a usually unremarkable spot, things must be rocking really hard at Palm Point, a known migrant trap...

...NOT. Palm Point was strangely quiet. The small number of field trip participants who'd forgotten that we were supposed to meet first at Powers were visibly bummed. And they got even more bummed after we told them what we had just seen.

We hung out at Palm Point for another half hour or so, and managed to find some weird spiders and a Pine Warbler. Then some of us headed back to Powers—and almost immediately saw the Blackburnian again! This time, it was near the ground, hopping between some low bushes and the ground with a group of American Redstarts. I tried to focus my camera and started shooting madly as it flitted about. Only two of the shots actually had the Blackburnian in the frame, and they both sucked. Now I know why photographers hate shooting warblers so much.

And so do you.


Birdfreak said...

Funny post, I have had many a bad photo session, and sometimes it really is just a matter of getting lucky.

Just goes to show you that there are no guarantees in birding.

Cool you saw a Blackburnian though, we saw one on Saturday, first sighting since spring.

Good birding to you!

Felicia said...

Thanks for the kind words! That Blackburnian really was a joy to see; I'm still bummed that I couldn't get a photo to do it justice. Good birding to you, too!

Corey said...

That's a great shot of the cuckoo. The Blackburnians are sooooo unreal when you finally get a look at one, especially the adult males! I just always end up with Warbler-neck syndrome by the time I'm done staring up at the treetops.