Friday, July 8, 2011

Prothonotary Warbler; Summer Warblers of Northern Illinois

Prothonotary Warbler, my one and only photo of a bird taken at night with a flash, Espenscheid Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 5/5/2011
The 5th warbler of my "Warbler Week" series is the Prothonotary Warbler, which I completely lucked out getting such a good photo (Above). I was hiking through Espenscheid and Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserves one late afternoon after I came home from school in early May. It was getting late by the time I turned around to head back. I was still a good hour from my car and the sun had already set. So I packed away my lenses, knowing that in the evening's low light, I wasn't going to get any worthwhile bird photos. About half way back to my car it was already dusk, but it didn't stop me from noticing a bright yellow spot in the bushes below me on a slope leading down toward a pond that is usually hidden from view when the foliage fills out. I stopped and peered into the brush and I knew I was looking at a warbler that I have never seen before. Drawings of The Sibley Field Guide was pouring through my mind, and I suspected it was a Prothonotary Warbler, a bird that would become #288 on my Life List. The warbler sat very still and made no attempt to move or escape from my close proximity. It couldn't have been more than 15-20 feet from me. I just couldn't get myself to see a new bird this close and not take a picture. So I took off my backpack, dug out my lens again and clicked it onto my trusty Canon Rebel T1i, turned it on and tried to hold as motionless as possible to see if I could get a decent enough photo with a slow shutter speed to let in enough light. The warbler sill didn't move a muscle, but it was definitely aware of me as it moved its head slightly keeping a wary eye on me, deciding if I was a threat or not. At this light it was probably in its night sleep mode. I took a few shots, with the best (Below) not being very good. The warbler still didn't move, but I decided that without a tripod,  wasn't going to get a better photo, so I moved on.
The best hand-held photo I could get of the Prothonotary Warbler in low light.
About a hundred yards down the trail, I was thinking about how tame the warbler was, and was disappointed that I couldn't take advantage of it. Then it hit me - why not try a flash? The bird stood still long enough for me to get very close, maybe it would still be there for me to get even closer to make a flash effective enough to get a sharper photo. So I turned around and made my way back to the area where I saw the little yellow bird. Sure enough, it was still there sitting on the same branch. I had already had my camera and flash ready before I returned to the spot. So I quickly leaned in closer to the bird, I couldn't have been more than 10 feet from it when I took a couple of flash pics. It flinched a bit, not sure what was going on, but it still didn't fly away. It occurred to me that it might be injured and couldn't fly. Then I became greedy, and I wanted to get a better angle - a side view of the bird, instead of the front. So I moved some of the branches out of the way and climbed down the slope to try to get to the side of the bird, but as soon as I moved closer, it flew away further into the thicket down the slope and out of sight. Now I had to be satisfied with my flash pictures - and one (Top) turned out pretty well. It is the only flash photo I have ever taken of a bird at night. You can be sure that the next day after school, during good daylight, I went back out to see if the bird was hanging around the same area, but I couldn't find it.
After looking at my photos, I confirmed that it was indeed a Prothonotary Warbler, a mostly yellow bird with grayish/blue wings and white under the tail coverts. These warblers can be found in summer months in the eastern half of the U.S. very seldom venturing as far north as the Great Lakes except for the southern half of lake Michigan, the southernmost Great Lake. They're more likely to be found in wooded swamps (exactly where I saw mine) or ponds, and except for migrating purposes will not be found in the mountainous regions of the Appalachians.

Sunset of the day, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve; 4/11/2011.

1 comment:

~Val said...

It's interesting that he was looking somewhat away from you in both images. Who thought flash would work with wildlife photos?