Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Confusing Fall Frugivore

Roger Tory Peterson coined the phrase "confusing fall warbler", because there is a suite of similar looking, dull-plumaged fall warblers that can be, well, confusing. In recent years some of the birding elite decry this expression, claiming that fall warblers are really not confusing. They fail to remember their beginnings, and that not everyone is an elite birder. Some fall warblers are indeed confusing, especially when seen in brief fits and spurts high in breeze-blown foliage.

The species that I am sharing below is a "sort of confusing fall warbler". It isn't as bad as some of its ilk, but certainly not as flashy and distinctive as a spring male would be.

Photographed last Saturday, right outside the Black Swamp Bird Observatory's building at the entrance to Magee Marsh in Ottawa County. Probably a first-year male, and he was a feisty little tiger. Note the prominent streaking below, pretty much from stem to stern.

He was actively engaged in frugivory, or fruit-eating. The berries of this Gray Dogwood held a strong allure, and the bird would make regular visits to sample them. It wouldn't swallow the fruit; rather it would carve out a hole in the top and suck the juices out. This species has a very fine bill and is well-known for foraging on nectar in migration and on the wintering grounds. During the breeding season in the boreal forests of northern North America, they depend heavily on spruce budworms.

Before long, this bird, if all goes well, will be in a place that many of us will envy once winter sets in. The tropical climes of the West Indies. A particularly tough individual spent part of the winter in Holmes County last year; you can see its photo in the newly arrived Ohio Cardinal.


Lisa at Greenbow said...

I sure think some of the fall warblers can be confusing. Especially when you only see them coming and going.

I hate to see birds eating poison ivy berries. It makes my throat constrict. I am always amazed that they aren't affected by the poison.

Rick said...

Hi Jim! I've always found that phrase a self-fulfilling prophecy: call 'em challenging, call 'em subtle, call 'em late for supper--but to call these birds "confusing" has made generations of beginning birders simply give up on them. I was happy to see the new-new-new Peterson abandon those words.
Hope you're very well! Coming to AZ sometime soon?