Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mourning Warbler is a bird worth celebrating

The Friday-the-thirteenth full honey moon magic left over from our fledgling Northern Saw-whet Owl encounter continued into the early hours of the morning when I was awakened by the shrill, incessant calling of a Sora.  This is a little aquatic rail species that should be breeding in a wetland up in Canada by mid-June, but for some reason was some 5000 feet up in the mountains of NC near the Sam Knob trail head having some sort of shouting match with my tent.  Weird.

After decamping Johnny, Lesley and I ran into Marcus Simpson and Marilyn Westphal in the parking lot and following them up the Art Loeb trail to the spot where a Mourning Warbler song had been heard by Merrill Lynch (the naturalist, not the financial firm) on a breeding bird survey several days before.

Mourning Warblers are notoriously elusive skulkers and seeing one, even when you know it in a shrub right in front of you, is almost never easy.  Small numbers pass through North Carolina twice each year on migration and occasionally a male is found repeatedly singing at the same place in summer as if he is trying to breed, though there are no definitive records of nesting in the state.
Mourning Warbler spot, Art Loeb Trail, Shining Rock Wilderness
Once we reached the spot, we heard him singing almost immediately, but true to form, the little guy just didn't want to show himself.  Rather than sit on a tall perch, he seemed to prefer singing from the middle of dense bushes or shrubs.  Another problem was that he seemed to be utilizing a rather large area as his "territory."  One moment his ringing song would erupt from right in front of us and the next he could be heard barely audible in the distance and then not at all.

Alder Flycatchers, Least Flycatchers and Chestnut-sided Warblers kept us company while we listened to Marcus Simpson's stories of Blue Ridge natural history and for the warbler to return from interminable forays down slope.  After a couple hours Marcus and Marilyn left but were replaced by several other birders including a few members of the "Bird Police" (North Carolina Bird Records Committee).  At this point a cloud rolled in and the Mourning Warbler finally decided to perch up on a distant snag where he sat and sang for a couple minutes.
Morning Warbler, Art Loeb Trail
He was out of range of most of the cameras present, but I was able to get a few diagnostic shots for records purposes!

Despite the sombre name, to see a Mourning Warbler, especially a singing male, in North Carolina is definitely worth celebrating!


  1. very cool, great story and photo good job everyone!

  2. Replies
    1. Indeed! Except that I use the Panasonic version (Lumix FZ70). Same idea though.

  3. Oh man!
    This is super cool, and I was in the area just four days ago. I wish I had read your post and would've been more scrupulous, though it may be doubtful the bird was still around when I was there.

    That aside, birding on Sam Know and Art Loeb was thoroughly enjoyable. It was totally gorgeous there and I picked up some cool (but common, I'm sure) lifers. Looking forward to that being a regular thing, somehow!

    1. Yeah, there haven't been any positive reports for at least a week, but I'm not sure if anybody's looking. Incidentally, somebody has discovered another singing Mourning Warbler in Jackson Co. NC (further west)...makes you wonder whether they're successfully breeding somewhere in state.