So here I am, once again at the Olde Homestead. So far I have enjoyed ice cream and cake, mocked tourists at Niagara Falls with a subset of my siblings, forced a separate but overlapping subset of my siblings to read my newly-completed novel manuscript and make comments (my mom and The Inimitable Todd have also been pressed into this task), and watched a baby raccoon behave amusingly.
Oh yes, and I have also looked at birds.
My walkabout today was in aim of finding grassland birds not commonly encountered in the city. Unfortunately, some species that used to be a shoe-in at the Olde Homestead are now absent – notably Bobolinks. Eventually, between the frustration of seeing nothing but Field Sparrows and the discovery that one of my usual routes through the fields is now so overgrown that bushwacking it would invite the fate of becoming a tick buffet, I took to the woods instead.
The woods I took to are quite near the spot where I got my life Hooded Warblers last summer, and given the title of the post, I’m sure you can figure out what ensued. I saw no less than five individuals of that species (given the amount of moving around they were doing, there may have been more) of which two were females, one was a male singing in suitable breeding territory, and one was a male gathering food. Promising, no?
You may wonder why, given this plethora of Hooded Warblers on the very farm where I lived from the age of nothing to the age of 18, how I managed to turn 30 without one on my life list. I wondered too! I have three hypotheses, none of which are mutually exclusive:
1. I’ve changed. As a teenager, I had a big problem (actually, I had lots of big problems, including hormones, my personality, acne, and no driver’s license, but I’m speaking here of problems specifically pertaining to birding): I was intensely allergic to biting insects. A mosquito bite that would give a normal person a single red, itchy bump would give my hives all up and down my arm for several hours. Because of this little issue, I was understandably reluctant to do a lot of birding in damp woods in the spring and summer, which resulted in the entire warbler section of my life list being seriously underpowered until I moved to NYC and discovered the wonder of spring in the Ramble at Central Park. Over time, my immune system has mellowed out and I now face down bugs that I once feared with impunity, allowing me to cover the woodland habitats of the Olde Homestead more thoroughly.
2. The Homestead has changed. Specifically, two things have happened to that particular woodlot to make it more Hooded Warbler-friendly. Several years ago, my family stopped raising livestock, and since then most of the former pasture areas have become overgrown; as a result there are many fewer Brown-headed Cowbirds around. Hooded Warblers are a species that suffers frequently from Cowbird nest parasitism. In addition, a few years back my family did some maple sugaring in that specific area, and in doing so opened up a tractor path into the woods; since then, the path and nearby open areas have acquired the sort of dense shrubby undergrowth that Hoodies favor for nesting.
3. The world has changed. Species expand and contract their ranges all the time. Sometimes this is very dramatic (bears!) and sometimes it’s only noticeable to the close observer (my mother now gets Tufted Titmice at her feeders in the winter, which never happened when I was a kid). While I, like everyone who is paying attention, tend to get very depressed about the fate of birds in general and Neotropical songbirds in particular, the Hooded Warbler is in fact believed to be doing quite well at the moment, even increasing its population (perhaps in part because a lot of other old homesteads beside the Olde Homestead are running more to shrubs than pastures in the northeastern U.S. these days.)
No matter why, though, I was delighted to see these beautiful birds in such abundance, and I hope they’ll grace the Olde Homestead for many years to come.