Warblers in Flight: A Photographic Collection

While active migration has always been my favorite bird behavior to observe, my interest in the phenomenon called “morning flight” of nocturnal migrants had been minimal due to the unfortunate reality that I lived well over an hour’s drive from the nearest known reliable observation site, Bluff Point State Park in Groton, CT. In autumn 2020, thanks to improved public access to Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, CT, I began to explore the northern tip of Willard’s Island as a morning flight viewpoint and was pleased to find that under the right conditions a reliable flight could be observed there. The volume of birds passing through is not large (a small fraction of what passes through Bluff Point), but the flight line is consistent and can be observed under good lighting conditions. Between autumns 2020-22 I visited the site 20 times in total and recorded 27 warbler species in morning flight. All but a few of these have been photographed, often poorly!

I immediately found myself really struggling with confident field identifications outside of the most distinctive species. It did not help that I was without other observers to confirm or correct my IDs, and that work obligations allow me to observe this phenomenon only a handful of times per year. Most birds were going unidentified. At that point I decided to focus primarily on photographing the birds and identifying them from still images. In other words, walking before running. Even this presented a bit of its own learning curve as I was just not used to seeing these species in the air. So it made sense to compile my images into one document that I could review and update as I went along, in the hopes of improving my field ID skills. So far, I still find it exceedingly difficult! But this has helped a bit.

Please note that this is certainly not meant to be an authoritative guide. It is simply my personal collection of images and notes that I have enjoyed compiling and learning from. The idea here is that other birders might also find this useful or interesting, so why not post it online as a living document. At this point, several species are either underrepresented or are not represented at all. But I think there is enough to be helpful. There are several birders in the Northeast US and Eastern Canada that have forgotten more than I will ever know about this subject, and it is possible that someday a formal guide will be published by someone, even though the audience is likely to be small. To this point, I am aware only of six pages towards the end of The Warbler Guide by Stephenson & Whittle, which is absolutely worth checking out and contains excellent text regarding flight style and structure. In the absence of a fully-fledged publication/collection, I am sharing what I have so far. I will update this periodically as I obtain more images and hope to add non-warblers to the doc at some point.

Enjoy this migration season!


The collection is available here for download in PDF format for free. However, if you would like to support this effort, you can DONATE via GoFundMe.

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