Spring Migration

It’s May. That means our friend Marie & I headed our for our yearly warbler-migration. One morning at Wompatuck State Park in Hingham MA and today in Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Watertown & Cambridge, MA. Today’s trip was the stuff of warbler-legends – at one point we stayed looking in two trees for an hour and the birds just kept coming in. Almost every single one of these birds, though, makes their living way up high in the treetops. This is especially true of the warblers, plus they’re small & in constant motion. Makes photography tough, unless you have a larger budget than us, for the giant lenses. But – it was a perfect day to be at Mt. Auburn.

first bird – Magnolia warbler (Setophaga magnolia) 

Not a warbler, but a returning breeder; winters down in Central America/northern South America. Rose-breasted grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus). Not a bird we see often; always exciting. This one was cooperative. There was another with it too.

he’s fanning his tail here:

As the morning moved on, it warmed up. Several hawks floating above everything. Juvenile red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) .

Northern parula (Setophaga americana) – always a highlight of the spring. I thought they were passing through here en route to northern breeding grounds – well, they are. But the species also breeds throughout the eastern US., except for an east-west swath that includes Massachusetts. I get much of my birding info from the Cornell website – https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Parula/overview

A little closer shot, these are heavily cropped. My lens is just 300mm, so can only pull so far in from the tops of the trees.

Sometimes we’ll go a couple of years without seeing a Blackburnian warbler (Setophaga fusca) – last year I had a 3-second view and never could find him again. This morning we saw two – and I got one “record” shot. Looks like they breed in western Massachusetts, must need more woods than we have here in the eastern part of the state.


All I knew was it was a thrush. Marie said “I think it could be Swainson’s thrush” (Catharus ustulatus) – we caught up with a group a minute later who said they had two Swainson’s that had just flown off – but we had just come up as the birds landed on these stones.

We saw (but didn’t photograph) several black-throated green warblers (Setophaga virens), but did get basic shots of this black-throated blue warbler (Setophaga caerulescens). All you can see in this view is the black throat – the back is a deep blue color.

a female American redstart (Setophaga ruticilla) we’ll get to the male.

The lowest, most cooperative bird of the day – a common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) this guy does nest around here, I hear them often in my yard, they love to be near water. But sometimes I can go all spring & summer  – hear it everyday in the spring, but not see it. This one was working some rhododendron bushes.

here he is again. We saw the female too.

The male redstart. There were lots of these today.

Another non-warbler, the scarlet tanager (Piranga olivacea) – there was a female too, she’s green with dark wings. And a female summer tanager. No photos of either of those.

From Hingham the other day – fewer leaves, another scarlet tanager, one view of his armpit.

Two years in a row, we stumbled upon very cooperative, non-singing veerys (Catharus fuscescens) another thrush.


a blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) – 

Back home, it’s orioles. Here’s a female Baltimore oriole (Icterus galbula) working our apple trees.

Here’s Daniel’s shot of one of the males today –

11 thoughts on “Spring Migration

  1. Nice shots. Nice pose of the Common Yellow-throat, fanned tail–xlent– and a good shot of the Parula. Your shots from Wompatuck also very nice and better than mine. Great that Daniel is getting the urge to shoot birds. He’ll be the hotshot soon and we’ll be scratching our heads to keep up. Great day today, as you said, at Mt. Auburn, haven’t had this rich a day in a while. And for anyone who wants to do some birding there in the Spring, the gates for cars open at 7am. Thanks Peter–

  2. Thanks Peter and Marie.

    I’ve always wondered about how much lens you have and am astounded to see it is only 300mm. You are doing extraordinarily well with it!

    Thanks for the pics!

  3. So glad you had such luck at Mt. Auburn. You picked the perfect day. Peter, the class meant a tremendous amount to me. Thanks, again. Andy

  4. Outstanding day in the treetops! Hard to do better than that! If you have a DSLR body, rent a lens for a day, you would have a blast.


  5. Thank you!

    For years I have been unable to identify a Warbler in our little patch of woods. Shadows and distance have prevented me from discerning identification features; especially features that allow field guide identification.

    Your pictures of the Northern parula (Setophaga americana) match perfectly to my fuzzy glimpses.
    Better yet, the song of the Parula is one that I’ve never located the bird singing. They seem to drift away beyond what I can see in the woods.

    Thanks to you, I now know the bird I’ve glimpsed without song and identified birdsong that I hear frequently but never located the source.

    I, also, love the Cornell Bird pages!

    Keep splitting, carving, building, chipping and birding!

  6. I noticed that you take pictures of lovely birds in what I would think would be a difficult perch to focus because of all the extra branches and leaves. So what do you do; are you using a spot metering and then locking in or is there some other way?

    • Carl – On the Mt Auburn trip, I was using the nikon D7200 – and I just use the matrix metering that camera features. I delete a lot of photos & just keep shooting when I think I’m on the bird. I take consolation in knowing the 600mm lens crowd still say “I wish I was closer to the bird…”

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