Carolina Young Birders

To gather, inspire, and empower the generations of birders to come

Sighting a Swamp Warbler

Posted by Matt on June 18, 2014 at 1:20 PM

Sprites, legend has it, are usually seen at unexpected times, popping out of dark forests and dreary swamps and frightening innocent passerby.

I believe the Golden Swamp (Prothonotary) Warbler to be an avian sprite.  Their brilliant colors, secretive hideouts in places few people roam, and their "here now, gone in a second" behavior gives them an existence as one of birding's most prized sightings, one generally well worked for, with diehards traversing through mud, swatting hordes of swamp insects and dodging other potentially dangerous swamp inhabitants for a quick glimpse of the Golden Swamp Warbler's mystical glow.

In the modern times thanks to the introduction of boardwalks and DEET, birders may have a better chance of reaching the Swamp Warbler's haunts.  But they're still at the mercy of the swamp warbler and whether he feels like a foraging jaunt today.

So it was serendipity when I set out kayaking on Cane Creek Lake in Union County (NC) the second weekend of June.  It wasn't a birding trip, merely a day to try out the new kayaks. Thankfully I had grabbed the bins on the way out the door but it would turn out I wouldn't need them very much. Cane Creek Lake had great birding, including Scarlet Tanagers, Osprey, and Black and White Warbler.  But a shaded cove had the greatest bird of the day.  Paddling into the cove you wouldn't necessarily think it to be great Golden Swamp Warbler habitat. The forest was second- or third-growth, with spindly pines and oaks mingling with a few spared giants. A road lay just a few dozen yards from the terminus of the cove.  No cavities suitable for Golden Swamp Warbler nest sites could be found.  So you can imagine my disbelief when about 3 feet in front of my boat a dazzling male Swamp Warbler landed on an overhanging branch, no optics needed. The warbler foraged there for about 5 minutes at incredibly close range, as I backed away from the branch so I wouldn't disturb it.  Then as suddenly as it appeared, the Golden Swamp Warbler flew rapidly across the cove and into the dense woodland.  Despite my best efforts to relocate the bird, these were futile.  Ghost-like, the Swamp Warbler had vanished again.

I think this experience enhanced my belief that birding by boat is a great way to find birds.  Not only are some riparian species difficult to spot from land thanks to their propensity to live their entire lives along waterways, but birds (in my experience) tend to not recognize a human in a boat as a threat as much as they would a human tramping about ape-like through their habitat.

Notable birds I have spotted by boat include a Ringed Kingfisher on the Rio Grande, Brant on the Ocracoke-Hatteras Ferry, and an Anhinga on Hilton Head's Canals.  Of course you could get particular and introduce a whole slew of pelagic species which may only be spotted by boat, such as petrels, shearwaters, and tropicbirds!

Happy Birding (maybe by boat :))

Matthew Janson

Founder/Coordinator

Carolina Young Birders Club

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2 Comments

Reply evan
12:19 PM on June 22, 2014 
I was at cane creek about a month ago. I was birding by foot I came across several oven birds, two spotted sand pipers and a pair of the Golden Swamp (Prothonotary) Warbler. I had the same experience with the birds. The female and male hoped around on a tree branch for several minutes. I am sure their are a few nesting pairs in the park. I plan to go back this summer to see if the little blue heron or the tri colored heron has returned to the swamp area at the park.
Evan Wunder
Reply Matt
9:18 PM on June 22, 2014 
Cool. Glad you could see them too. Hopefully you like the new background :)
PS on Friday I saw the Mourning Warbler at Black Balsam and I was thinking of posting a blog about it.