My “how to” title may sound facetious, as I am no expert by any means, and coming across one of these babies is at least half luck! But everybody likes a good “how to” once in a while! Connecticut Warblers may be scarce as hen’s teeth in Central PA, but there are more reports everyday of people finding them during this year in fall migration. Perhaps more people are looking for them and they’ve been traveling through here all along! My older birding friend claimed to have seen them in her “hedge row” along her farm (actually a strip of trees and shrubs.) She would remind me every spring and fall, “Now don’t forget to look low, not just in the tree tops. There are some good birds there; sometimes even a Connecticut.” Good advice to follow. After 30 years of birding, I finally found one last year on my hill, and another last week at Dale’s Ridge in Lewisburg, PA. I was so excited with my first one, that I took an iPhone shot of my camera image and sent it out to my birding friends! I couldn’t wait long enough to get home and download the pictures!
The bird above and below were found on my hill while looking at a wave of warblers passing through. The last few years I’ve become more photographer than birder and tend to shoot first, then figure out what I have later, especially with warblers. During songbird migration, I shoot at anything that moves! When I saw a bird at my feet, almost too close to focus, and aimed the camera, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. That gigantic eye-ring and gray hood screamed, “Connecticut Warbler!!” I got about 10 shots off in 4 seconds, and then he seemed to disappear into thin air. The habitat was a roadside in deep woods with a cleared area nearby for a couple of driveways up into the woods. Not the habitat I had expected.
It helps to know what you’re looking for when out looking for a Connecticut. The one I found last week was rather distant and not too pretty, but the photo shows the key field marks: a huge white eye-ring, gray hood, plain olive-gray back, yellowish below with very long undertail coverts. Sibley calls it “Uncommon; secretive and difficult to spot. Large and thrush-like, with short tail and long wings.” The Connecticut walks like an Ovenbird rather than hops like the similar-looking Mourning Warbler. It seems to prefer brushy areas near the ground, and is sometimes found in goldenrod. Again, I was surprised that this bird was found, not skulking in the grasses or down low in a thicket, but out in the open half-way up a small bare tree! It pays to look at every bird, but also to educate yourself as to the field marks of your target. And, of course, a LOT of luck helps, too! I’d love to hear where my readers have found their Connecticut Warblers–leave a comment! Thanks!