Sunday, July 13, 2014

Featured Feathered Friend: Swainson's Warbler

I’m delighted to bring back a “Featured Feathered Friend” segment in which I showcase a story and photos of a great encounter with one particular avian beauty. This FFF is the one and only Swainson’s Warbler. As you may recall from a recent post a single Swainson’s Warbler almost magically appeared in Forsyth Park in Savannah one of the last times we birded in Georgia before heading west. It was a glorious sighting, especially as we knew we’d be parting ways with many awesome warbler species.

One of the only other times we had seen a Swainson’s Warbler was when we saw a flash of our lifer bird in the leaf litter under the azalea bushes. That little magician disappeared for good – never to be found again, no matter how hard we looked, even if it meant ruining a family portrait session in the park.

Luckily, a few weeks after this brief sighting, we found another individual, and it was spectacular! Nick and I had joined our friend, birding expert and THE local “bird lady,” Diana Churchill, in scouting for this target species for a guided tour that we were going to give to a gentleman and his wife in a couple of weeks, specifically seeking the elusive Swainson’s Warbler.

When we hit the buggy, swampy trail at Ogeechee Canal, we were graced with not only a gorgeous Swainson’s Warbler, but he was up in the trees and singing his heart out! He gave us nice, long looks as we semi-silently squealed with delight, high-fived, and fist-pumped at this amazing experience we were having. These birds are notorious for being hard-to-find skulkers, and we found quite a boisterous one acting like he was Elton John in concert.

Upon looking at this bird, most people would wonder what the big fuss is all about. It’s just an LBJ (Little Brown Job), right? Well, as stated on the Swainson’s Warbler’s entry on Cornel Lab’s “All About Birds” page:
One of the most secretive and least observed of all North American birds, the Swainson's Warbler is a skulking bird of the southern canebrakes and rhododendron thickets. If it weren't for its loud, ringing song, the presence of the species in many areas would go completely undetected.

So this was an incredibly successful scout outing! Unfortunately, when we brought the couple to this very spot a couple of weeks later, there was no Swainson’s Warbler. No singing. No tree-hopping. Not even silent skulking. Nada. I felt bad for them, but also felt grateful that we had been able to find this magnificent yet understated bird with the experience that we had.


  1. Such a sweet bird! I didn't really get to try for them in N. Carolina recently, but will have another crack next summer, here's hoping.
    Very nice shots of a bird that's tough to find and doubly hard to photograph!

    1. Thanks, Laurence! They are tricky little buggers, but their song is SO, so, so, so, sweet-to-hear. ;)