Credit: Brian E. Small
The Great Bird Current is flowing north and picking up volume as more and more boreal birds leave their wintering grounds on their way to the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska. They come from South America, Central America, the Caribbean, the southern U.S. and Mexico, with the largest number passing through the Texas and Gulf Coast region where so-called “fall-outs” of spring migrants can often be astonishing in the diversity and abundance of birds. In the movie The Big Year, there is a scene that is supposed to portray one of these fall-outs at one of the most famous locations for this phenomenon, High Island, Texas. Some elements of that segment of the movie are a bit unrealistic perhaps but, still, the crux of the phenomena and the excitement of the birders is true to life.
One of the species that is just starting to arrive in small numbers in the southern U.S. from its wintering grounds in the Caribbean basin is the Northern Waterthrush—a species in which more than half of its global population breeds in the boreal forest. Northern Waterthrushes breed across the entire boreal region from Alaska across Canada to Newfoundland, and because they have a loud, obvious song they are one of the easier warblers to document as being in a particular place. That does not mean, however, that they are necessarily very easy to see because they love to stay low and hidden away in thick scrambles of brush in wet, soggy, buggy and often inaccessible locations. I was lucky to get this short video of one out in the open in its breeding grounds along the George River of northern Quebec in August of 2010:
Most often I just hear them. Here are some recordings I have made of them from various parts of Canada’s boreal forest:
Short clip of single song from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories with the loud “peeps” of Green-winged Teal:
A dawn chorus clip from along the Albany River in northern Ontario. See if you can pick out the Northern Waterthrush among the other birds:
A scratchy recording of one from George River, Quebec from the same location as the video above:
When I am trying to teach people about where Northern Waterthrushes spend the winter I like to call them “mangrove warblers” since, as my made-up-name suggests, they are very common in hot, steamy, buggy and tangled thickets of mangroves in the Caribbean basin. There they don’t sing but they do give their emphatic “chink” call notes to give themselves away. When I was in Aruba this past November I saw lots of them in the mangroves and nearby shrubs on that island, which is just off the northwest coast of Venezuela. Here is a video that I filmed of a very shy Northern Waterthrush on Aruba back in November:
The way that birds like the Northern Waterthrush interconnect the nations and natural ecosystems of the Americas is astounding, as literally billions of birds travel back and forth between the boreal forest breeding grounds and the wintering grounds that extend as far south as southern South America. We highlighted much new research about these interconnections and other interesting facts in the book released last November “Boreal Birds of North America: A Hemispheric View of Their Conservation Links and Significance” if any of you are interested in learning more!