All photographs are copyrighted and may not be used without permission.
© 2006-2015 - All Rights Reserved

First we'll bore you to tears with some warbler talk, and if or when you can't take it, scroll down to the pictures.   :) What good is a warbler? You might not notice them much but if you removed them you would sure see and feel the difference. This is what they do all year:

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler doing what warblers do best (It ain't warblin'!).

Warblers are many people's favorite birds. Stunning beauty, fast action, endless variety, amazing lives, most with long migrations, and in fall, identification challenges. Most don't really warble very well, but their songs are favorites, each usually with A and B songs, plus a selection of call notes.... imagine 55 chip notes to learn! How exciting can it get!?!   Each chip slightly different in its own special way, when learned may offer the best most diagnostic field mark one could ask for.  The thrill of it all!

Here we'll show a few of them, and might even include some photos taken elsewhere to better illustrate them. About 40 of North America's 55 species are known from the Sabinal River Valley area. Only about 20 and change occur in any given year, if you are lucky. I have seen 30+ species at Utopia Park (in 10 yrs.). With its 30 years of spring birder coverage Lost Maples shows 33 species of warblers on its list. BUT nearly HALF of them (15) have been seen only once, they are accidental, less than 20 species are reported annually there.

Most of the warbler diversity here is migrants, and that is far better in spring than fall. Only a very few types winter here. The biggest single day diversity I had here was a late season cold front on May 2, 2011, with 21 species around Utopia, most at the park.  That is a once in a decade or more event, any day you find 10 species locally here you did good.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat, the bird that perhaps has defied taxonomic understanding as well as any breeding North American species. It has been put with warblers for some time, but it is not one. I wondered why it was put with them when I was 5 years old. We cover it here, since it has been grouped with them for so long and likely is so in your books. As of summer 2017 the AOS (formerly AOU - American Ornithological Union) has given it its own family, allegedly nearest blackbirds. A fairly common breeder locally, heard more easily than seen, and often sings (or makes loud chattering noises and whistles) at night, for which more often than not the Mockingbird takes the heat.


We have a few nesting species of warblers locally, 5 regular annual breeders, and 3 species of toe-holder colonists that are perhaps wishing and hoping they could breed, maybe they are. Of course most have at least heard of the hill-country headliner, the Golden-cheeked Warbler due to its endangered (threatened) status. Though widespread locally, it is very habitat specific and best seen at Lost Maples SNA. Seeable mid-March through June, though present through July, rarely early August, they can be tough late in season. It has its own page of photos (linked on bird photo index page among other spots).

Golden-cheeked Warbler
Golden-cheeked Warbler, the Edwards Plateau's most endemic
bird species, it breeds nowhere else. The female makes the nest
almost completely out of the peeling bark of the Ashe Juniper,
so is a little cedar chest cup.

Other warblers nesting there (LMSNA) and other headwater stream habitats locally like Big Springs over the divide at Frio River headwaters, are Louisiana Waterthrush, and Black-and-white Warbler. Some Black-and-whites nest along Sabinal River where extensive mixed deciduous. Anywhere along the big rivers in tall Cypress trees there are nesting Yellow-throated Warbler, of a vocally distinct flavor, and a ball moss specialist here. Edwardsplateauensis I call it. Finally, the 5th regular nesting 'warbler' is Yellow-breasted Chat which uses brushy areas either in the riparian flood zone, or around fields and woodland edges.

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler is the most common migrant warbler in Utopia or San Antonio for that matter. The nashville is the unit of measurement for warbler migration here. "today warbler movement measured 14 nashvilles, etc."  This is an immature with pale throat, adults have yellow throats.

A note on the Yellow-throated Warbler song type here. All across America, found in the entire eastern half, Yellow-throated Warblers sing essentially the same song, a descending Canyon Wren like clear whistled down scale run: slee slee slee slee slee slee slee slee slee. Sometimes with a high thicker TIK note at the end for flourish. Here, on the Medina, Sabinal, Frio, Nueces and Guadalupe Rivers at least, they sing a lazy modulation between two frequencies, with a different emphatic ending. Some might say more like between a Hooded and Chestnut- sided Warbler, or even a Yellow-rumped Warbler, but quite very unlike all the other Yellow-throated Warblers in the U.S.. It is sort of a slow lazy "we see we see we SEE you two."

Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

The line of seperation of this vocally distinct population is a map that has never been drawn. When I asked about it on Texbirds I got a bunch of quizzical stares, apparently no one had noticed these bird's distinct song type here before. I am surprised Oberholser missed this, considering things like Bexar Brown Thrasher, but dead birds don't sing. These Yellow-throated can also show an almost orange tint to the lower throat, very briefly in spring, which seems to be acquired by wear, and then wears away quickly. I do not know if the rest show that or not, I have never seen or heard of it. Here the species is abundant, territories ca. 200-300 linear feet of river gallery forest, and are edge to edge. It is a Ball Moss (Tillandsia recurvata) specialist, feeding heavilly and nesting in it. Nesting is usually high in the Bald Cypress that line the major rivers, but it does nest away from the river and Cypresses in live-oak mottes that are heavily infested with Ball Moss.

Black-and-white Warbler

First summer male Black-and-white Warbler, a bark specialist that works the trunks and large branches of trees.

In the borderline irregular category, there are a few other warblers perhaps trying to breed locally. There are what seem to be nesting Northern Parula across the divide from Lost Maples at Big Springs, the Frio river headwaters, discovered by Tony Gallucci. They are a less than annual spring migrant on the Sabinal River.

Historically there were no known summering Northern Parulas along the Frio or Sabinal Rivers.  They only occur as rare migrants in April. The above mentioned probable nesting Northern Parula are way above Leakey in a unique exceptionally lush headwaters micro-habitat quite unlike the Frio or Sabinal gallery forest habitats along their corridors.

In 2015 a pair plus a single male Northern Parula were territorial at Utopia on the River, 2 miles south of Utopia. The pair appeared to have nested, being present 6 weeks on territory. After they departed the unmated male stayed another week and then left. Though I missed the week when the young must have come out, they surely bred along the Sabinal River in 2015.

Territorial singing male Tropical Parula are nearly annual along the big south-draining Edwards Plateau rivers in April and May. The Frio around Concan seems best but also the Nueces, Devils, and once even on the Sabinal River, small numbers are territorial, mostly trolling males, but no local (hill country) breeding is yet known or proven. One sung at Utopia on the River for 6 weeks one year. There is a Lost Maples record too.

In 2006-7 a PAIR of Rufous-capped Warbler were resident at Concan until a 3-day ice storm. There are other local records at Chalk Bluff Pk. in NW Uvalde Co., a pair on the Devil's River, I saw one at North Thunder Creek in the 'hay house' yard, and now in late September 2015 I found one at Lost Maples which is being widely seen for a couple weeks so far. It should be expected to continue attempts at colonization, as the Tropical Parula is.

So three additional species of warblers have toeholds, sorta, locally, as extremely low density colonizers and presumed attempting breeders. A nest has never been found in the state for the Rufous-capped, or in hill country for the Tropical Parula. Any suspected instance requires good documentation. Actually surely the Rufous-capped and Tropical Parula have nested in the hill country, it just remains unproven. The consistency of occurrence the last decade indicates nesting.


Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler is another common migrant warbler in Utopia. The streaks on the underparts
of breeding plumaged males are bright red.

For spring warbler migration, Nashville Warbler is the only abundant species locally. Yellow-rumped (mostly Myrtle, some Audubon's), and Orange-crowned, might be the next two most numerous, and could qualify as common migrant species, but they also winter here. Their migration out of the area in spring is mostly before the main migrant warbler passage, as fall arrival is after the main migrant's passage. Then Yellow Warbler is the other common passage-only warbler.

Black-throated Green and Wilson's are 5th and 6th most common and Black-and-white 7th. Of those species multiples are expected best day of passage each spring. After that it gets slim pickens quickly, and nothing could be considered common. This is not migrant warbler heaven, with its low diversity of generally inland or overland migrants, and no focal point of geographics or habitat (concentration factor). It takes work to see 20 species in a spring migration season, and a quarter of those will likely be "only one individual seen" species.

The lack of concentration factor, where a billion acres all look the same from the sky, a tree everywhere, no matter where the bird looks, especially shows in fall when besides Nashville and Yellow Warbler, seeing multiples of almost anything is unusual. Besides those two and some Wilson's, very few warblers pass through the area (detectably) in fall until late October or November when the Yellow-rumped Warblers arrive. Orange-crowned are never numerous until later in October too.


In winter there will be 3 species, Myrtle (Yellow-rumped) and a few Orange-crowned for sure. Some few Audubon's type Yellow-rumped sometimes winter, and are regular but scarce in spring or fall. Most winters there will be some Pine Warblers along any drainage corridor, especially at Garner S.P., but along all major wooded drainages (Sabinal, etc.), usually just a few, but up to four in a single flock of winter birds like Bluebirds and Chipping Sparrow at Garner is not unheard of. I had 9 in a single flock adjacent to the yard in winter 2013-14. Most warblers are highly insectivorous, and only those that can eat other things like berries, or seeds, can winter northward usually.

A couple vagrant winter warblers have occurred recently, first an adult female Black-and-white Warbler wintered for 5 years at Utopia Park. Other than single day CBC records, it was seemingly the first long-term full winter stay, and first returning winterer, documented on the Edwards Plateau. And then it came back four more years. That was pretty good. I have one wintering record of a Yellow-throated Warbler, which of note, is the only one I have ever heard here that sang the typical eastern Yellow-throated Warbler song. So we know it was not from here. Then finally winter of 2014-15 I found the first documented overwinting Louisiana Waterthrush on the Edw. Plateau.

Here are a few poor pictures of some of the warblers found here ...

Wilson's Warbler. Note color break in eyebrow (supercillium) with contrast between the anterior portion of supercillium and forehead, and rear (yellow) part of eyebrow. You can see the color break, it was orange fore and yellow aft, most here are yellow throughout eyebrow and forehead.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat - usually down low near water.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler - Some are named for the hardest part to see. Almost all will show the white at the bend of the wing (marginal coverts) as this bird.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler will use hummer feeders in winter. Note face pattern of dark trans-ocular line with broken eye-ring and pale line over eye, plus diffuse dusky streaks on breast. The reddish tones on right half of underparts are an artifact of feeder reflection.

Painted Bunting

Not an Orange-crowned Warbler, but an immature Painted Bunting. Which is what I think all the August Orange-crowned Warbler reports really are. Critically study the bill shape and structure. Note compared to the Orange-crowned Warblers above the plumage is very very similar, green above, dull greenish-yellow below.

Pine Warbler Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler, adult right, immature left, is regular in low numbers in winter.

Myrtle Warbler

"Myrtle" form of Yellow-rumped Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Rufous-capped Warbler

Rufous-capped Warbler

Rufous-capped Warbler

Rufous-capped Warbler

Tropical Parula

Tropical Parula, a rarity locally

Golden-cheeked Warbler

Golden-cheeked Warbler

Golden-cheeked Warbler

Golden-cheeked Warbler

Townsend's Warbler Townsend's Warbler

Townsend's Warbler at our bird bath Sept. 25, 2013

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler, male at Utopia Park Aug 9-18, 2009.
Accidental in fall in west half of Texas.

Golden-cheeked Warbler

Golden-cheeked Warbler male feeding fledgling (taken through telescope from safe distance)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, not a warbler, but often with them in winter.

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush, juvenile

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush, adult, note grayish tone on back, contrasting with pure brown head and wings, Northern never shows this appearance.

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush, adult

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush, adult

One last chip note, on Louisiana Waterthrush identification and status here. Some field guides stress or tout the pink buff flanks and two-toned (bicolored) eye-line as being critical to ID it. Note in the two above photos, perhaps closer than the average field view, these things are not apparent.  Such is often if not typically the case here in spring to early summer. Not all Lousiana show the buffy flank color in late spring to early summer, as it wears off over winter, causing many mis-identified reports of Northern Waterthrush at Lost Maples in spring due to lack of buffy flanks. Buffy flanks go from absent in late spring and early summer, to boldly apparent in late summer when they complete pre-basic molt around late July or August usually.

Also note contrary to some published accounts (Dunn and Garrett Peterson Warbler Field Guide), any Louisiana Waterthrush after early Sept. does not need documentation here.  In fact in early Septmember here at say Lost Maples, or Big Springs above Leakey, I want proof you saw a Northern. Which does occur, but is not much more likely is the point. Labor Day weekend is about when the first Northerns show up, but Louisiana can still be present, and Northern are scarce here in fall. Regular, but scarce.

Louisiana have been detected present and singing into September locally.  Tony Gallucci had them one year on Nature Quest at Big Springs singing on Sept 15 still, and another year on a NQ walk he and I had it singing there on Sept. 21. So, many elsewhere may have left there territories by early Sept., and some of these do too, but some of these are often still nesting again in August, and at mid-September can sometimes be still singing on territory. Migrant Louisiana probably from further north can also occur in September.

Below is another example of Louisiana Waterthrush here past early September, this one wintered at Utopia Park. Frankly a wintering waterthrush here on plateau seems more likely to be Louisiana than Northern. I heard of a prior report of them in winter but it was not a photographed record so few believed it is my take on it.

Louisiana Waterthrush

Apparently the first ever documented over-wintering Louisiana Waterthrush on the Edwards Plateau, present at Utopia Park from early December (at least) 2014 to early March, 2015. This image acquired Jan. 25, 2015.

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