art blog of a skeptic·birder·science nerd

Posted by Jocelyn Posted on Apr - 28 - 2009

Butter Butt Invasion

It starts with a bang.  A few days of beautiful warm weather, and suddenly they flood northward, crossing the wide expanse of Lake Erie (a risky open water voyage apparently worth the circumvention of Detroit), then push up through southern Ontario and beyond.  I headed out at the crack of dawn on Saturday to see what I could stir up at Snyder’s Flats, and although breeding bird activity was excellent, the only migrant passerines I found were a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

However, a violent thunderstorm rolled in late Saturday afternoon, followed by steady rains until well into Sunday.  Bad weather during migration periods makes a birder antsy, as it tends to ground travelling birds.  And grounded migrants don’t sit on their hands (wings?) waiting for the skies to clear up.  No rest for weary warblers, as they must fuel up for the next leg of their voyage.

I headed to the Arboretum after the rain stopped Sunday afternoon.  Before I’d even opened the door to my car I could hear the birdsong — the simple melodies of wood warblers.  Black-throated Green, Palm and a Waterthrush added their voices to the mix, but most prominent were the Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The trees were dripping with butter butts.  At times I had three or four together in the bins, flitting after insects and poking beaks into crevices.  Had the CCD sensor on my little Canon Powershot not died on me last week, I could have easily snapped a few passable photos (which, for a warbler, is saying a lot).

The Yellow-rumps that pass through Ontario once went by the delightful name of Myrtle Warbler, before it was decided that they and the more westerly Audubon’s were a single species (we lose a lot of great bird names to taxonomical instability). They are hardy birds, one of the first warblers to appear in spring, and the last to depart in the fall.  Now that they’ve arrived, there’s no waiting for the vacation time I booked in May — I need to get out now if I’m to enjoy the best of the warblering.  Looks like a trip to Long Point may be in order for this weekend.

Yellow-rumped Warbler.  Watercolour.

Yellow-rumped Warbler. Watercolour.

Categories: Field Sketches

4 Responses so far.

  1. I hope you do get out ‘warblering’ (great new word!), I wanna see more migration!

  2. DDolan says:

    I love your work. I have always wanted to be able to sketch, but I have absolutely no artistic talent. Heck, I have a hard time cropping my pictures any way other than to follow the rule of thirds. I will be back to see more. I was wondering if you sketch from pictures or memory.

  3. Jo says:

    Thanks! I work from life almost exclusively (which necessitates a lot of memory work, since birds rarely sit still for longer than a few seconds at a time — which, as a photographer, I’m sure you’re aware!). I used to copy photos a lot when I was younger (they’re a great learning tool), but these days I only use them for reference to check things like feather tracts and plumage details. Life drawing is far more challenging, which is what I enjoy about it.

  4. Kelly says:

    …love your “Butter Butt” sketches. You must sketch very fast to draw so well from life. Our Yellow-rumped Warblers have moved in too. They are so cute and fun.