A Glowing Flame in the Treetops

It’s cold outside, so there’s not a lot of birding going on with the Team.  We’re anxious for warm spring days with more hours of daylight where we can get out and add new birds to our life lists and see some of our familiar favorites again. For now, however, we can reflect on some of our adventures from last summer.

Last spring I purchased a Jayco pop-up camper so I could take my family on all kinds of camping trips.  For two teachers with young kids, there couldn’t be a better way to enjoy our summer vacation.  One of our camping trips landed us at Bear Head Lake State Park near Ely, MN.  With its pristine lakes and towering stands of white and red pines, it is no wonder that it was voted as America’s Favorite Park in a 2010 nationwide campaign sponsored by Coca-Cola.

Minnesota’s State Parks have a variety of programs and activities nearly every day.  Coincidentally, one of those programs when we were at Bear Head was a birding walk with a local birding expert.  Perfect.  So Evan and I woke up early to meet the tour guide and other birders at the visitor center for a 7 AM start.  That’s right, the early bird gets the…bird.  About twenty of us walked the paths and roads of the park just to see what we could see.  The group would stop whenever a bird was spotted or heard.  We observed a variety of birds including the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, Red-Eyed Vireo, Mourning Warbler, Chestnut-Sided Warbler, Ruffed Grouse, and several others.  As we walked, the guide educated us on the songs and habits of many of these birds. Birding is a visual and auditory experience.  I found the guide’s information on bird songs so helpful.  If you’ve never been in the woods in northern Minnesota in the summertime, then you don’t realize just how noisy it is with bird songs!  Armed with our new knowledge, however, Evan and I learned to easily discern the songs of the different species.  He is better at it than I am.

Toward the end of our walk, our guide spotted a Blackburnian Warbler.  She was watching it with her binoculars about 30 yards in front of us.  I strained to see it through my binoculars, but I just couldn’t pick it out.  I was frustrated because this was a bird I really wanted to see.  In his Field Guide to Birds of North America, Kenn Kaufman appropriately describes this bird as a “glowing flame of the tree tops.”  Still not seeing the bird, we moved on and finished up our tour.

Photo Credit: Chris Thomas

The next day Evan and I went for a walk on the same path that our tour went on the day before.  We were after one goal – to find the Blackburnian Warbler.  We got to the same place the guide had spotted one, a gravel road running through a mixed stand of white pines and aspen trees about 50-60 feet tall.  Evan and I had been listening to the Blackburnian’s song on the Audobon Society’s Bird Field Guide App the day before.  As we walked this road, we heard the song.  Instantly our eyes were scanning all around the tops of the trees as that is where these warblers tend to dwell.  Finally we saw a bird flitting about, but I could not make a positive ID through the binoculars, especially since branches and leaves obscured our ability to see him.  Evan hasn’t figured out how to master binoculars yet, so he was just using his naked eyesight.  I lost sight of the bird, but Evan picked it out.  This bird is about 4 in. long in the top of a 60 foot tree, and he spotted it with his naked eye! It just happened to be on a bare branch.  I put the glasses up and looked.  Sure enough, this gorgeous orange-headed bird popped against the bright green leaves of the trees.  What a treat it was to see!  If only Evan could have seen it up close and shared in this excitement.  This was a classic birding experience – seeing what we set out to find. We can’t wait to go out and find other fascinating birds this coming spring.

These amazing photos were taken by Chris Thomas, someone I met through Twitter.  Chris is from the UK and has photographed over 500 bird species in the UK and US.  He has graciously allowed me to use some of his photographs for this post.  I highly recommend visiting his website of bird pics: Christ Thomas American Bird Photography.

                                       Photo Credit: Chris Thomas


5 thoughts on “A Glowing Flame in the Treetops

    • Thanks for stopping by, Chris. Glad you liked it. Thanks again for the pics! Evan and I are excited to chase the warblers again this spring.

  1. Great blog Josh! Not only is it good reading, but more importantly, it will serve as a great documentary/history of this great pastime and your experiences with Evan.

    I am a friend of your parents from way back – in their Montana days. Several years ago, I started a birding blog myself and continued it for several years until too many other projects/interests got in the way. Please pass along my blog address to your parents so they can get an idea of what I’ve been doing, at least up until about a year ago when I last posted on my blog. I hope you continue with yours!

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