Our Favorite Birds This Spring (So Far)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year if you’re a birder! And the staff here at Bird Watcher’s Digest is spending every minute we can in between our work responsibilities trying to soak up all the migrants passing through our yards and patches and whatever birdy spots we find ourselves this spring. We thought we’d take a moment to share some of the highlights of our spring so far… with hopes of more birdy goodness to come in the weeks ahead!

Blackburnian warbler photo by Shutterstock.

Sarah, Digital Marketing Director: So far, my best and most memorable 2021 birding experience was a recent Saturday excursion with a few members of my knitting group to Oak Grove Cemetery in Marietta. We’ve only started meeting in-person again after a year of Zoom hangouts, so seeing them in the flesh still feels like a rare treat. And instead of catching up over coffee and good yarn, we marveled at the rich variety of headstones and bonded over spottings of a red-eyed vireo, a Blackburnian warbler, and close-up looks at a pair of summer tanagers.

Kirtland’s warbler photo by Bruce Wunderlich.

Bruce, Magazine Design: I was standing in the parking lot at Magee Marsh—the birding hotspot in northwestern Ohio—with my Nikon D850 with a Tamron 150–600 G2 lens attached, chatting with some other photographers. Suddenly a young Amish boy approached and said, “There’s a Kirtland’s warbler over there!”

As he pointed in the bird’s direction, I saw a sudden rush of photographers heading that way. I quickly joined the crowd, too, moving to the place the boy had pointed out. Surveying the site, I looked not at where the throng had gathered, but for the location with the best light and best possible spots to get an unobstructed look at the rare warbler, should it land nearby.

Then it happened! A female Kirtland’s warbler appeared in the tree branches right in front of me. I quickly grabbed a few shots, and then it disappeared into the denser area of the surrounding trees. I was confident that it would be back, so I stayed put. I watched the bird for nearly 30 minutes as it moved back and forth, foraging after its long journey. As I watched and patiently waited, the warbler came within five feet of me! What a treat! I had never seen this species before, and now, I have great photos! I only wish I had the chance to thank the Amish boy.

Baltimore oriole photo by T. Castro / Wikimedia

Wendy, President & Publisher: My favorite birds this spring have been the orioles, both Baltimore and orchard. I’ve seen them in Ohio, North Carolina, and Indiana this spring. Their songs and colors are unmatched in the US, and after spending 10 years with them while living on Lake Erie, they feel like coming home to me!

Barred owlets photo by K. Ball.

Kelly, Sales Director: Squirrel Meat. It’s What’s for Dinner.

It’s funny. After receiving the Janssen vaccine in early April, I reentered birding travel and have since birded in North Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana, as well as around my home state of Ohio. As anyone who travels during migration to enjoy birds well knows, it’s nearly impossible to corral the birding experience into superlatives like “most memorable” or “favorite bird.” I mean, while in West Virginia, I skinned my knee for the first time in probably 25 years while following Mark Garland and a group of friends downhill after a mind-blowingly good, long look at a golden-winged warbler. That was certainly memorable—not to mention earned!—but we specifically visited the spot, knowing we’d likely get the golden-winged.

Although I’ve traveled quite a bit this spring, it was during a laid-back evening in April, about a half-mile from home, when I witnessed carnage that I, a vegetarian, fully delighted in witnessing . . .

Every spring, I follow a local barred owl pair and their young. Everyone around here, and I do mean everyone, wants to observe the young owlets as they branch and then make their way into the world. (Can you blame us?!) One evening about two weeks following the Class of 2021’s graduation from their nest box to the treetops of their ravine territory, I met up with a few friends to observe the owlets. A very kind neighbor (thank you, R!) granted us access to her backyard, as its location on the ravine’s ridge afforded opportunities to observe the owlets from close range. Knowing this, I also lugged my Kowa TSN-883 Prominar scope—namely to practice digiscoping with my Phone Skope adapter.

Jessica (yes, THAT Jessica!) and I quickly located the two owlets, and we arranged the scope to document the cuteness. Alongside our friend, the ever-amazing conservation photographer Chris Brinkman, we settled in to enjoy a chill evening of owl observation. As we chatted, Chris interrupted and pointed toward the adult female flying in with a meal. He immediately recognized that she’d brought in a squirrel. And here my scope was all set up and WOAH—just watch the video….

If you and I have crossed paths during a birding event in the past month, or you follow me on Instagram, it’s possible you’ve already seen this clip. I have zero reservations about toting a scope around—particularly if it means I can check on my urban owl friends from a respectful distance, but ESPECIALLY if I’m able to document them enjoying squirrel meat.

Red-headed woodpecker by B. Wunderlich.

Jessica, Assistant Editor: I’ve been so fortunate to get to travel a bit this spring and have seen a good number of the visitors one hopes to see each year in our corner of the continent: scarlet tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, brown thrasher, and thrushes and swallows and vireos and flycatchers and warblers galore! As I type this, I am listening to one of my favorite songs, that of an eastern wood-pewee, and watching an eastern bluebird of happiness glean caterpillars on a neighbor’s tree. It’s always a good day when you get to see a bluebird.

But my most memorable bird so far isn’t a migrant, though it isn’t very common either: The red-headed woodpecker. Their color pattern is so bold and beautiful, and that crimson head so velvety looking—they easily get my vote for most handsome of the woodpeckers, perhaps of all birds.

A couple weeks ago, I had not one but TWO in my yard! (This happened to be during the BWD weekly staff zoom meeting, so they got to witness my freaking out in real time and did not judge me for having my binoculars on my face half the meeting. Perks of working with birders!) A red-headed had visited me this time last year, so I was not necessarily surprised to see one again, but two was unexpectedly wonderful! They were fairly aggressive with each other, almost like two males fighting over territory rather than a pair looking to mate. I had the passing thought/hope that if they were tussling over territory, perhaps one would stick around, but like last year, they were gone after a couple of days.

Fast forward to last weekend when I was porch birding one evening. I kept seeing movement high up in an old dead tree closer to the house of the neighbor directly behind me. I assumed it was the more common red-bellied woodpecker, which is similar in shape and size (and also has red on its head, leading many to mistakenly call it a red-headed woodpecker). But then I saw the tell-tale flash of white on the wings and belly and grabbed my bins… red-headed woodpecker!! To say I was a little excited is an understatement, and I will promise you this: If there are baby red-headed woodpeckers in my future, you will hear my SQUEEEEEE from wherever you are!

No sign of it since then, but I’m not giving up yet. Though maybe I should go introduce myself to the neighbors and explain why I keep pointing my binoculars in their direction…

(One cannot mention the red-headed woodpecker without noting that it was our beloved BT3’s favorite bird. It’s hard not to miss him/feel his presence when they visit!)

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