October 19, 2020

Written by Aaron Palmieri.

Being a birder during the fall migration typically results in spending my free time looking for migratory birds. While some people would not dream of being at work on their day off, Palmetto Bluff is one of my favorite places to go bird watching. One crisp Saturday morning, I decided to venture over to the Sandhill Loop Nature Trail. During the spring, it was an unexpected gold mine of warblers and I was curious if that would hold true during the fall. My wife joined me on this small adventure and, as we meandered down the trail, we observed many of the usual suspects. Cardinals, chickadees, wrens, and other common year-round species were included in the sights of that morning. We also saw a few summer tanagers fattening up on insects in preparation for their journey south.

We eventually completed the loop and returned back to the start of the trail. BUT, before walking across Old Palmetto Bluff Road, we began to see activity – a foraging flock led by a noisy tufted titmouse was moving across the canopy overhead. We checked off chickadees, a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers, brown-headed nuthatches…and then I spotted something else. A greenish crown caused me to freeze as I observed the bird’s barred wings, gray underside, and overall body shape. I realized I was looking at a chestnut-sided warbler! Wait a minute… What about the chestnut sides? We deduced it was most likely an immature individual as, unlike adults, they lack their namesake along with the elegant facial markings of mature males, but nonetheless I was ecstatic. Chestnut-sided warblers are only seen during migrations and the majority of eBird records for our area show them in the fall rather than the spring.

I brought it up to the other team members when I returned to work that week, and Jay mentioned he had not heard of this species being seen at the Bluff before. I later checked old bird survey data, as well as the list of birds seen at Palmetto Bluff, and found that they had not yet been documented. I happily checked off the chestnut-sided warbler and it became the 211th species of bird that has been documented at Palmetto Bluff. Situations like this are why I always encourage people to grab their binoculars and venture down our gorgeous nature trails because you never know what you will encounter!
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