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Northland Nature: Watching life in a warbler nest

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

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The nest of a chestnut-sided warbler with four eggs as seen on a June day. (Photo by Larry Weber)
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The long days of June, often with warm temperatures and ample rainfall, are excellent times for growth in the Northland. We see this clearly with our lawns, gardens, roadsides and trees. Each, in its own way, will do plenty of growing during this month.

The plants that flourished in the spring months are now forming their seeds and fruits. Maple seeds have been falling for a few weeks lately with more to come. The berry season has begun with strawberries, honeysuckles and elderberries; all seemed like they held flowers only a few weeks ago.

Among the animals, we can easily see the new crop of squirrels, rabbits and fawns following their mothers. Frogs that called in spring are now silent as their tadpoles develop in ponds that still hold water. I have come upon both snapping and painted turtles laying eggs in dug out roadside nests in recent weeks. But it is mostly the bird life that takes advantage of the present situation to produce and raise families.

Migrant birds returned to the region in several phases, starting in March and continuing until early this month. Once settled, they find a good spot for a nest and proceed to deposit eggs, incubate them and feed the nestlings until the young are able to leave the nest as fledglings. Early returnees have completed this process by this time and the fledged young are mingling with the adults.

Many of the birds that feed on insects are not able to return here until later in spring. They begin nesting soon after and their nesting season will go until June. Indeed, for many, it is this month that has the nestlings; July is the month of fledglings.

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We often see their new nests. It may be a robin or chipping sparrow in the yard, or perhaps a hummingbird on a nearby horizontal branch or a phoebe nesting by the garage. We see these nests, but many we do not see. We can infer their presence from the bird behavior.
Breeding birds will continue to sing on their home territory during the family-rearing time. Hearing the bird songs tells us of their presence and breeding during this month. This is the basis for the Breeding Bird Survey, a national project that uses bird songs to tell the presence of breeding — a type of population count.

Several species of birds nest in the region and almost daily, I hear their songs as I walk in June. One common one, the chestnut-sided warbler, is a small, 5-inch bird with a yellow crown, greenish-back feathers and a chestnut color on the sides. Birds often nest in shrubby areas along roadsides. They readily sing during breeding times. The song has been paraphrased to say “please, please, pleased to meetcha."

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A chestnut-sided warbler sits on its nest on a June day. (Photo by Larry Weber)

Recently, I noticed a nest near a trail that I walked often. The nest was constructed in a small dogwood, about 3 feet above the ground. Once discovered, the nest was easy to see. It was made of stems of various roadside plants and lined with grasses.

At the time of the nest find, it had four eggs and mother was sitting here incubating the clutch. During the next 10 days, one after another egg hatched and the nest held four tiny nestlings. It was interesting to watch this progression as I passed by, but with this valuable family now present, I decided to avoid this route, hoping they would develop undisturbed.

Many families succumb to predators at this crucial time. I hope these will survive, but I’ll not be watching them grow.

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Larry Weber
Larry Weber

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Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books.
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Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.