2 July 2015. Ruthven Park, Cayuga ON. Early this morning I received a very polite request from the family of Jonathon, a visiting birder, asking for directions; “ ... He’s especially interested in finding a blue-winged warbler and an orchard oriole. I wondered if you would have any suggestions.” Either species is worth some effort to find, so I offered to go with them and try our luck. We arranged to meet at the bird observatory in an hour.
The two species are just about equally hit and miss. The oriole’s distribution in Ontario is patchy because we’re close to the limit of its range; and the warbler is fussy about habitat, it’s a small and flighty bird and can be hard to locate. To add to the challenge it’s becoming just a little late in the season for bird song to be helpful, and the leafy exuberance of summer tends to get in the way. As we set out I offered our chances: the Orchard Oriole as a long shot and the Blue-winged Warbler, a probable.
I called a stop in front of a large Black Willow that is always a busy place for birds; if the Orchard Oriole was to be found anywhere, this was perhaps the most likely spot. The willow was so lively with the comings and goings of Yellow Warblers, Song Sparrows and Cedar Waxwings that Jonathon described it as the ‘Tree That Keeps on Giving’.
It may be trite to start a sentence with ‘suddenly’, but that’s the way it happened; suddenly I picked out a familiar song coming from a nearby Black Walnut, it had Orchard Oriole written all over it, at least to it did to me. We searched the tree and then followed the flight of a smallish bird that flew from whence the song came, it landed, sang again and then flew back to theTree That Keeps on Giving. And there it was, an Orchard Oriole. “There’s your bird.” I proclaimed, as if it always works that way. One down, one to go.
The Blue-winged Warbler came just minutes later. I had expected that we’d have to continue some way to an altogether drier and scrubbier part of the property. Instead we found them at a densely green corner, quite un-Blue-winged Warbler-like, where all around us several birds were chipping anxiously. These were the sort of short, dry, chip notes I associate with Common Yellowthroats in a state of distress, scolding or anxiety. A few moments passed before we were able to find one and instantly realised that it was a Blue-winged Warbler, and not just one, but several. It seems we had barged in on a family: mom, dad and perhaps three or four fledglings, still a little fluffy. We enjoyed several long, almost intimate, minutes watching them. And well, that was it! Both species in the bag with almost Amazonian mail-order dispatch.
We continued our ramble. Warbling Vireos above us, Wood Thrushes calling from somewhere deep in the wet forest and Field Sparrows out along the field edges; it was all very nice. We parted company, Jonathon apparently thrilled with the outcome and me mentally weighing how much of our success was just luck.