Go north, birds

By | Published Thursday, May 27, 2010

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I love this time of year. It’s not too hot yet but not freezing cold. The trees are leafy and still fresh green. Spreads of brilliant wildflowers such as Indian Paintbrushes and bluebonnets are covering open fields and roadsides; their more delicate relatives such as toadflax and wild onion are hiding among the bunchgrasses. In addition to all the botanical delights, we have many migrant birds coming through right now. I was out recently in southwestern Oklahoma and saw many species that are also likely to occur in Wise County.

I’ll start with the sparrows because I love their subtle plumages. Chipping Sparrow is a common winter resident here, but it also occurs during spring migration. We then get a chance to see the bright rufous crown and bold black eye stripe that make this such a distinctive species. A close relative is the Clay-colored Sparrow which has pale clay-brown and gray patterning on the face. It also has a crazy buzzing song that is very unique once you’ve seen the bird making the noise.

Another winter resident that is transitioning to migrant in glorious spring plumage is the Yellow-rumped Warbler. After not seeing any breeding plumage male warblers since last year, I was amazed at how they go from drab gray-brown streaky to crisp gray, black, white and yellow. The males retain their namesake yellow rumps, but also have a yellow patch near the shoulders, bold black streaking down the flanks, a crisp white throat, white wing bars on clean gray wings, and a yellow streak on top the head.

The rest of the migrant warblers are hit-and-miss for which you might see. Yellow Warblers (all yellow with rufous streaking on the breast for males) are generally quite common. I saw a few other species this weekend that I don’t see as regularly; this might be because I just don’t usually lurk in the wooded areas where warblers are to be found.

The most unusual one was a Palm Warbler, a more eastern species. It has a rufous cap, somewhat like a Chipping Sparrow, but a yellow throat and yellow undertail coverts and rump. The rest of the bird is a yellowish tan. A more common warbler, in the right habitat, was the Prothonotary Warbler. I am usually more of a sparrow person, but I don’t think I will ever tire of the Prothonotary Warbler’s glowing brilliant yellow accented with slaty blue wings. They live in swampy wooded areas; I haven’t seen them in Wise County, but they might be found if you have a good swamp. I do know they occur in Denton and Collin counties.

As you explore outside during this beautiful spring weather, keep your eyes peeled for the spring gems hopping in the trees, whether they are brown and streaky or boldly yellow and patterned. You never know what wonders you may find.

The next monthly field trips on the Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands will be June 2 and July 7. We will depart at 9 a.m. from the Forest Service District Office in Decatur. For more information, contact Mary Curry (see below) or the Forest Service District Office, (940) 627-5475.

Claire and Mary Curry are nature enthusiasts based in Greenwood. If you would like to contact them, e-mail them at

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