Sighting of yellow-throated warbler sees birdwatchers flock to Elmira

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Anxious birdwatchers and casual photographers hit the back trails of Elmira Tuesday, drawn by reports of a rare yellow-throated warbler in the area.

It was certainly a balmy if windy late-November day to be out in search of the target that, as the name suggests, sports a splash of yellow on the front of its neck. Not typically seen this far north, the bird was sighted along the trail in between Floradale Road and Snyder Avenue in Elmira.

“There are reports of a yellow-throated warbler in the area, and it’s been out here a couple of weeks,” said Jim Herrewynen, one of the birdwatchers out Tuesday afternoon in search of the warbler. He noted there was a Merlin, a small falcon, nearby eating a sparrow, which may have scared off the smaller warbler.

Herrewynen, a hobbyist, said he was on his lunch break and decided to check the trails, which were close by, in search of the warbler.

“It’s a casual hobby of mine. I don’t have all the best equipment for it, but I still enjoy it,” he said. The people he had spoken to along the trail Tuesday had not spotted the bird.

Brian Johnson, a photographer hoping to capture a shot of the rare warbler, said he had seen a posting online and likewise made it out to Elmira.

“Well there’s all different kinds of warblers, and this is just one I haven’t seen before,” he said.

A photo of the warbler taken by Ken Burrell on Monday. [Submitted]
However, the day before, birdwatcher Ken Burrell says he spotted the warbler along the trail, and was able to get several photos at a distance, which he submitted to eBird.org, an online website which tracks sightings by the birding community. Another sighting was reported on the same website on November 11 by a Darlene Lamarre, who likewise submitted a photograph of the tiny yellow-throated warbler.

“It’s only the second record for Waterloo Region, and it’s actually the first one photographed,” he said, adding that the region had fairly good coverage from the birdwatching community.

Burrell said he worked for Natural Resources Solutions Inc., a consulting firm based in the Waterloo Region, as biologist with a focus on birds. He said he was also the regional reviewer for eBird. Speaking on the phone, Burrell speculated how the yellow-throated warbler might have found its way to the area.

“It’s kind of hard to tell. I mean we’ve had some pretty strong southerly winds the last few weeks – I guess it’s kind of typical at this time of year – and some other rare birds kind of showed up around the same time. So it would probably just be like a pretty intense storm system from the southern U.S. that displaces birds north of their … normal range,” he suggested.

According to the eBirds dynamic map, which is updated based on verified sightings, the yellow-throated warbler rarely ventures north from the U.S., preferring the eastern states of that country.

Birdwatcher Jim Herrewynen was out Tuesday afternoon on the township trails after sightings were reported of a a yellow-throated warbler in the area. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]

“The breeding range extends to northern Ohio, and then their wintering range shifts south. So it’s like southern Louisiana, Florida, southern South Carolina. And then the birds are also in the West Indies and the Caribbean at this time of year,” said Burrell.

As to whether the birds venture northwards was related to global warming, Burrell said that was difficult for him to conclusively say.

He noted the significance of the sighting, saying there was little record of the yellow-throated warbler at the region’s naturalist club’s, which goes back some 80 years.

“We have tens of thousands of … records, and its only the second record ever [in Waterloo].”

It was also only the second yellow-throated warbler to be photographed in the province this year, according to eBird’s data, with the other sighting taking place in April in Essex County.