Chuck Seniawski has been hosting this lost pine warbler, from Eastern North America, at his bird feeders nearly every day since early November and so far, through Dec. 5. It should have migrated south instead of west. Photo by Chuck Seniawski.
On Nov. 9, a friend called to tell me she heard a story on KUWR, Wyoming’s National Public Radio affiliate, about a Blackburnian warbler that blew across the Atlantic to an island off the southwest British coast, exciting birdwatchers.
It’s ironic that this eastern North American bird was named by a German zoologist for an English naturalist, Anna Blackburne (1726-1793). She never saw a live specimen, but her name seems appropriate because the 5-inch-long male burns with a flaming orange throat and head on a body that is otherwise black and white.
We’ve had a few Blackburnians accidentally find their way to Wyoming. Under the Explore tab on eBird.org, you’ll find that my husband Mark Gorges was the last to record one in Wyoming, a female, on May 28 at Wyoming Hereford Ranch.
Warblers typically eat insects, so the lost warbler Mark saw could find them in late May. Warblers leave the north in September and October, when cold weather limits their food supply.
However, beginning Nov. 11, Chuck Seniawski has had a pine warbler visiting his Cheyenne feeder nearly every day through Nov. 27, so far. This is another lost eastern North American species – and it is way late for an insect eater.
Pine warblers, according to Doug Faulkner’s “Birds of Wyoming,” published in 2010, are “vagrants.” Their normal migration, breeding and winter ranges in the eastern U.S. and southeastern Canada are nowhere near Wyoming.
However, Doug wrote, every fall there is at least one reported in Wyoming, usually between mid-August and mid-September. Doug’s only winter report was a pine warbler that spent five days in December 1988 eating peanut butter at a feeder in Gillette.
Chuck says his pecks at his sunflower feeders, hunts on the ground underneath and uses the birdbath. He isn’t sure if the bird is eating seed bits or finding something else. When he posted a photo, Don Jones, eBird regional data reviewer in Laramie, who spent four years back East, agreed with his identification. Also, Chuck had just seen one in Central Park in New York City.
Pine warblers look a little like a female or a winter-plumage male American goldfinch, yellowish with dark wings with two white wingbars, so maybe we should all examine our feeder birds more closely.
Serious birders stake out reservoirs during fall migration, including the Laramie Plains Lakes. Jonathan Lautenbach was rewarded with being the first to record two king eiders, sea ducks, on Nov. 12-18 at Lake Hattie. He reported they were a female and a juvenile male, plain brown. The adult male, not seen, would be half white and half black, with a bright yellow-orange “bill-shield” on its forehead.
eBird shows these king eiders as the first to be recorded in Wyoming. Doug Faulkner does not list them at all in his 2010 book, which is a comprehensive review of bird sightings up until that point.
King eiders breed in the Arctic, across northern-most Canada. They winter around coastal Alaska and northeastern Canada, but there are frequent winter sightings in lower 48 states, most often coastal. They are also usually female and juvenile birds.
Cheyenne birder Grant Frost was probably checking Sloans Lake in Lions Park for interesting ducks and other waterbirds when he came across a small flock of bushtits Nov. 3 and again Nov. 27. “Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds of North America,” published in 2020, describes their habitat as brushy woodlands and pine-oak forests of the Southwest.
But if you look closely at Peterson’s range map, it shows this thin line of purple (meaning year-round resident) drawn up the Front Range of Colorado, practically pointing to Cheyenne. More bushtits may be in our future. Look for pale brown and gray, 4.5-inch-long birds building sack-like hanging nests.
Grant also found a blue-headed vireo at Lions Park on Nov. 1, and it was last seen there on Nov. 3 by Vicki Herren.
Vireos are much like warblers – eating insects, but also fruit in winter. This species breeds across Canada, through New England and down through the Appalachians. It winters along the southeast coasts of the U.S.
It’s possible that the birds from western Canada would head south through Wyoming to get to the Texas Gulf Coast. They are just hard to pick out from other vireos and warblers bouncing around in the trees.
Unusual bird observations submitted to eBird automatically get flagged. You are asked to write a description of your observation and submit a photo, if you can. Someone appointed by eBird for that area will decide whether your record becomes public.