What’s in your backyard: Banner year for warblers (chipmunks, too)
By SANFORD SORKIN
For Montclair Local
In this column, Sanford Sorkin and David Wasmuth will alternate writing about the birds
and beasts you may see around your house. Seen a bird or animal you want to know more about? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sanford Sorkin has been a Montclair resident since 1978 and is currently the president of the Montclair Bird Club. He has been a bird watcher and nature photographer for the last 12 years.
The backyard is busy, and I am getting a better appreciation for the garden’s capacity to attract birds. Everything appears to be timed so that there are always flowers in bloom.
Our backyards continue to be a welcoming Eden in the brave new world of distancing. I have always gone out early for a good bird-watching day; the early commute time from the kitchen to the patio cannot be beat, and there are even chairs. Watching the activity in the yard this month gives the impression that someone is building an ark nearby.
We seem to have pairs of chipmunks, American cardinals, gray catbirds, common grackles, house finches and American robins; even groups of warblers are stopping for a meal in the spruce and hemlock trees. I am tempted to point out that this is not the forest primeval, even if we do have hemlocks.
The suet feeder is still up and about empty but is still visited daily by the red-bellied and downy woodpeckers. The absent hairy woodpecker has probably found the nearby preserve is adequately supplying all its needs.
Every day seems to bring more chipmunks. While they are cute, their tendency to dig up flowers and gnaw at the bulbs has not gone over well with us. There is also the issue of importance. The chipmunk is welcome to drink from the birdbath, but sticking out his tongue at me is not called for, though probably necessary because there are very few other irreverent gestures in the chipmunk repertoire.
So far this has been a banner year for backyard warblers. We usually see the more common ones like yellow-rumped and yellow frequently foraging a little too high in the
trees for good pictures, but this year they seemed to find lower limbs and were prepared for their photo ops. The magnolia warbler, with its beautiful black stripes on a yellow field, stopped, posed and then turned for a profile. Magnolia warblers prefer to feed in conifers and are not often seen in magnolia trees, despite their name, but in this case the warbler found perfect cover in our magnolia.
New Jersey is positioned toward the northern end of their migration route and a little farther north are the breeding grounds. This makes them relatively common this time of the year, but this was a first for my backyard.
The other first was a much less common Cape May warbler. The only other time I have seen Cape May warblers was on a trip to Cape May. On that day at the shore they were plentiful and spread uniformly over a single large flowering tree.
Two other warblers with similar names that look quite different are the black-throated blue and the black-throated green. The black-throated blue is easily identified because it is a blue bird with a black throat. The black-throated green also has the black throat, but the bird’s green back is not as brilliant as the other’s blue.
Sitting in a chair on the patio with my camera in hand is less threatening to the birds that are typically leery of hikers and their quick movements. They generally have no qualms about dipping in the birdbath and occasionally just walking onto the patio in search of food.
My first backyard veery stepped around the boxwood border and strolled to within a foot or
two of my feet. Normally I would be a little more excited about the proximity, but not when I have a telephoto lens that does not focus on objects that are essentially on top of you. Fortunately, he eventually backed away for my picture.
Overhead, there are almost daily sightings of red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures. The vultures are seen by chance when looking skyward. The red-tailed hawks on the other hand are frequently announced by blue jays and crows that have little to no tolerance for hawks in their neighborhood.
Whenever the blue jays are making a racket you may want to step outside, where you are likely to see a raptor that clearly doesn’t understand why the jays and crows are so unwelcoming. And if you are lucky, you get to watch them mob the hawk and chase him through the sky. Owls get the same treatment, but while we hear them nearby, we have yet to see one in the yard.