They Be Ballers

Good news, I successfully got back out on the trails the other day! Well, sort of. The important thing is the ankle held up during a 7 mile test run on one of the harder trail courses in the area. I’ve been slowly building strength back on the road and only dabbling on uneven ground up to this point. The crazies were starting to claw their way to the surface. It was time to put those demons to rest and assess the progress. A couple of twinges thanks to a few roots and rocks lurking under the heavy blanket of leaves and some extra gasps of air from the never-ending hills reminded me to keep the pace under control. Made it back to the truck with a giant smile on my face with thoughts of doing it again … until the voice in my head that sounds just like Linda immediately screamed “NO!”. On the down side, a injury that I’ve been dealing with for a majority of this year is starting to get very angry so that is the next item to address. As they say, wrestle one worm at a time, which brings us to today’s featured feathered friend.

Worm-Eating Warbler found at Audubon Bird Sanctuary on Dauphin Island, Alabama in April 2021

Hit the jump to read more about our quad striped specimen.

Do you remember that $@#%!@$#%!@ family of birds I touched upon in the previous post? .. those sneaky birds that continually elude me. Bastards I tell you, pure evil creatures put on this earth to frustrate the hell out of me. Well, this WAS one of those birds in that category. This distinct looking Warbler goes by Worm-Eating and happens to look a lot like a Red-Eyed Vireo (link here). I’ve come to that conclusion due to a scenario that has played out way too many times. Travel to a destination, spot a bird with a distinct eye-line and covered in earthen toned feathers, chase that bird through the dense forest, fight like mad to get a picture of it, process it, get excited that the quest finally delivered the goods only to find out either through reference books or the fine people manning the birding identification sites that you just bagged another Red-Eyed Vireo. Yes, I know that Vireo has a red eye, but without directed light it pretty much looks black so that hasn’t provided much help in the field.

Worm-Eating Warbler found at Audubon Bird Sanctuary on Dauphin Island, Alabama in April 2021

Talk about frustration… like just short of gimpy ankle frustration! Pretty sure this is intentional. If you take a look at the region map you will notice the Worm winters in Central America and then heads northward to its breeding destination. A journey that takes them across the Gulf (from what I can tell). From there they push up into southern Illinois before reaching the heartland. At that point rumors fly that the Intrigued dude lives there prompting an immediate deviation AROUND it – seriously, they issue a series of French taunts and completely avoid it. They stay out of the Chicago area as well, but that is completely understandable (although, not good for Ron).

Worm-Eating Warbler found at Audubon Bird Sanctuary on Dauphin Island, Alabama in April 2021

As you can tell by the images so far in this post, I’ve finally put an end to this quest. Plenty of room for improvement on the execution of the shots, but at least they are good enough to claim the check. Our migrating Warbler comes to you from the Audubon Bird Sanctuary on Dauphin Island – yes, the same place that brought you the Fish Crow (like here) and the Northern Waterthrush (link here). Beyond the sighting location, there is another common thread with these three birds.

Worm-Eating Warbler found at Audubon Bird Sanctuary on Dauphin Island, Alabama in April 2021

They all have feathers and a bill. Sorry, lame, just hoping it made you smile. No, these birds are now checked of my list thanks to the father and son birders Ron befriended while we were exploring the sanctuary. Personally, I’m putting them up for birders of the year – friendly, helpful and damn did they know their birds. As we were walking back to the car elated to having bagged the Fishy and the Northern, the son stopped slightly ahead of us and brought his binoculars to bear on a rather thick section of vegetation. In a low and calm voice he states “there’s a Worm-Eating”

Worm-Eating Warbler found at Audubon Bird Sanctuary on Dauphin Island, Alabama in April 2021

In your best Edward Norton voice “Please return your seat backs to their full upright and locked position”.  I blinked several times, rattle the ears a bit and try to replay that line a couple of times to make sure I heard what I thought I heard.  Looked over at Ron and I think he might have been doing the same thing.  “Did you say Worm-Eating Warbler!?!”  “Yep, right there”.  Ron and I immediately sprang into action, shutters a blazing.

Worm-Eating Warbler found at Audubon Bird Sanctuary on Dauphin Island, Alabama in April 2021

Clearly this bird does not want the attention and schooled in the ancient art of ninja concealment.  Duck behind that leaf, slink back into the deep shadows, sneak across an opening using every available twig for coverage – total pain in the ass.  Didn’t look like Ron was having much better success.  We ended up tracking that bird a significant way back down the trail with far less concern of the flooded areas than we deftly avoided on our initial pass.  That bird would make a mistake and expose itself for a split second to be met with a blast of our shutters.  Something was getting in that tin if it killed us.  Guessing those birders figured out we were going to be awhile and continued on never to be seen again or give us a chance to thank them for all their help that day.

Worm-Eating Warbler found at Audubon Bird Sanctuary on Dauphin Island, Alabama in April 2021

Thanks to a lot of magic in the digital darkroom, I’m able to bring you some shots that at least give you a decent impression of the Worm. Eager to see how Ron’s shots came out. Hoping his preferred auto-iso setting was able to cut through the dense jungle – bouncing between conflicting areas of darkness and lightness was putting a strain on my exposure dials.

Worm-Eating Warbler found at Audubon Bird Sanctuary on Dauphin Island, Alabama in April 2021

I mentioned in the Northern Waterthrush post that having witnessed both the Louisiana and the Northern I am now fairly confident I can tell them apart in the field. The same is now from for the Red-Eyed Vireo and the Worm. They are distinctly different especially in the head coloring. The main coloring of the head is actually a tan that contrasts with the duller olive/brown of the back. That coloring different makes those four lines on its head (two eye-lines and then two on the crown) really stick out. Those lines are not as pronounced on the Vireo (link here).

Worm-Eating Warbler found at Audubon Bird Sanctuary on Dauphin Island, Alabama in April 2021

At the end of the shots that I was willing to publicly show, so better get to some interesting facts for you to take away from today’s read. According to Cornell, I have a good chance of experiencing this once elusive Warbler if I simply show up at the same location next year or the year after that or the year after that – you get the picture. I always appreciate a predictable bird. Confirmed by my sighting, these Warblers prefer the interior of dense/canopied woods. Our specimen also remained just off the ground foraging among the leaves and twigs for food. Their name suggests they feast on Earthworms, however, they focus on caterpillars (not my babies, those are just to big and hard ha) and other insects like Grubs, Spiders and Slugs. Taking a cue from the Killdeer, they do have a broken wing/tail skit to help draw intruders away from their nest. Oh, almost forgot, these Warblers are huge basketball fans with their most notable member gaining celebrity fame as a rebounder for the Chicago Bulls – long live “The Worm”.

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