With the relatively recent removal of the Yellow-breasted Chat from the Parulidae, the title of the largest new world “wood warbler” may very well go to the Ovenbird, Seiurus aurocapilla. The Ovenbird is somewhat of a misfit itself. Seiurus is a monotypic genus, believed to have derived early in the evolution of the family. This pot-bellied, thrush-like bird nests and forages on the forest floor, getting its common name from its nest that supposedly resembles a Dutch oven.
Although the Ovenbird can be easily heard through much of the summer in any large-track deciduous forest, getting good looks and photographs is easiest by waiting to spot them in a migration trap like Tower Grove Park in St. Louis City where these photos were taken.
There is a singer everyone has heard, Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird, Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again. He says that leaves are old and that for flowers Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten. He says the early petal-fall is past When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers On sunny days a moment overcast; And comes that other fall we name the fall. He says the highway dust is over all. The bird would cease and be as other birds But that he knows in singing not to sing. The question that he frames in all but words Is what to make of a diminished thing.
About three months ago Steve and I made a trip to southern Missouri in perfect time to catch the songbird migration near its peak. Our primary areas of focus were the two largest springs in Missouri – Big Spring and Greer Spring, two areas located within Ozark Scenic National Riverways. This National Park contains some of the best habitat in Missouri for newly arriving nesting birds as well as good stopping grounds for those birds heading to more northerly destinations.
I was very fortunate in being able to take first photos of several new species during this trip, one of which was this amazing Broad-winged Hawk – a species whose diagnostic vocalization is often heard among the treetops in densely wooded areas but is less frequently seen.
Another species that I finally captured on camera was this Yellow-throated Vireo. This species advertising song is quite similar to the Red-eyed Vireo. The difference being that the Yellow-throated will give you a chance to answer his questions, whereas the Red-eyed won’t shut up long enough for you to respond! 😉
Next up is a species that was just passing through, on its way to nest in northern Canada or Alaska. The Grey-cheeked Thrush is the least studies of North American Catharus species.
Greer Spring is always a place of great beauty, although usually stingy with pleasing compositions. On this visit we took the plunge into the first deep boil immediately outside the cave opening. An unforgettable experience!
At the trail-head on the way down to the spring, Steve found this Pheobe nest with mom on eggs. She patiently sat while I took a few photos.
Probably the most exciting find and photographs for us was this resident Swainson’s Warbler. This warbler is likely the least common of Missouri’s nesting songbirds and is considered endangered in the state. Loss of its preferred habitat of thick shrubby understory within flood plain forests has caused this species to decline across its entire breeding range. The boat dock at Greer Spring is one of the few locations that this species can be expected to be found every spring in Missouri.
This last image, which may be my favorite of the trip, shows a singing Ovenbird, a species of the understory within high-quality hardwood or hardwood/conifer forests. It’s song, often described as teacher, teacher, teacher, can be confused with the similar sounding song of the Kentucky Warbler. We have noticed the difference of habitat preference between the two species, which may aid the novice birder. The Ovenbird is most often observed in dry upland areas with sparse vegetation, whereas the Kentucky Warbler prefers lower, wet areas with dense undergrowth.
In my opinion, one has not experienced anything in the Missouri Ozarks until having spent a sunrise on an April morning listening to the newly arrived nesting songbirds and those just passing through.
There could not possibly be enough Aprils in a lifetime.