Woodland Breeding Birds at Middle Run

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator
A dashing male Indigo Bunting perches after taking a morning bath at Middle Run. Image by Derek Stoner.

One-one, two-two, three-three is the song that erupts from a black cherry as we enter the forest at Middle Run.  The male Indigo Bunting perches at the top of the tree and sings his heart out.  This handsome member of the Cardinalid family likes to live on the the edge–  where forests and fields meet. 

After meeting the breeding bird species that inhabit the old fields and early-successional forests at Middle Run, we continue down the trail into the mature forest.  Amidst the towering trees, a whole new suite of beautiful birds may be found.  Let’s enter the the woods on the birding trail just below Tri-State facility, where this bird is on territory…

A stunning Scarlet Tanager feeds on a stinkbug gleaned from a cherry tree. Image by Derek Stoner.

Whoa– look at the blazing red bird!  We’ve just entered the territory of the Scarlet Tanager.  These birds spend most of their time in the forest canopy, gleaning caterpillars from the oaks and tulip trees.  On this day, the male tanger couldn’t resist the juicy stinkbugs clinging to a cherry tree.  We often hear the tanager’s raspy, robin-like song, but rarely catch a glimpse of them flitting around the top of the forest.  The past few times I’ve hiked the trail at Middle Run, I’ve lucked into the rare tanager: low and eye-level! 

A male Ovenbird lays claim to his territory with a burst of song. Image by Derek Stoner.

Further down the trail, we heard the loud call of a warbler:  teacher-teacher-TEACher, TEACHER yells the male Ovenbird.  A woodland warbler, the ovenbird builds a nest on the ground that resembles an old-fashioned bread oven, thus the unique name.  With a brown back and white chest speckled with brown dots, the Ovenbird is often mistaken for a Wood Thrush, another common woodland nester at Middle Run.  These two birds share the same protective coloration that helps them blend in while feeding on the forest floor.  Listen for the haunting, flute-like whistled song of the Wood Thrush while walking the birding trail.

Showing its characteristic feature, the Red-eyed Vireo searches for caterpillars. Image by Derek Stoner.

No matter where you in the woods, and no matter what time of day, you can likely hear the repetitive song of the Red-eyed Vireo.  See me, here I am, where are you? inquires the male vireo, time after time.  A tireless vocalist, the Red-eyed Vireo holds the world record for most songs sung in one day: 22,197!  Tha’ts non-stop for 14 hours, song after song segment.  With an olive green back and white underparts, the slow-moving vireo blends perfectly with the leaves in the forest as it searches for its favorite prey: moth caterpillars.  A thick beak with a hooked tip helps the vireo rip apart and devour its fuzzy prey.   The vireo builds a beautiful woven cup nest, often high in the canopy, and is though to be one of the most common woodland breeding birds in Delaware.

Perched in his favorite ash tree, the male Kentucky Warbler sings his heart out. Image by Derek Stoner.

Continuing down the trail, we come to the big bicycle bridge crossing Middle Run.  We hear calls of Eastern Wood-Peewee, the liquid songs of Louisiana Waterthrush, and the outbursts of Great-crested Flycatchers.  But it is the curious churry-churry-churry song that draws us across the bridge and into the territory of another intersting bird: the Kentucky Warbler.   These yellow-and-black warblers like to nest in understory thickets of spicebush and multliflora rose.  Along the Possum Hollow powerline, a pair of Kentuckys are set up in the same spot as the past couple years, and the male has a favored perch where he pours forth with song.  Many a birder is fooled into thinking the song is that of a common cardinal, but one look at this warbler will end the confusion.

As we turn back on the trail and head uphill along the power line, we re-enter the early-successional forest and the land of Blue-winged and Prairie Warblers.  The contrast between the birds of the ” big woods” and the birds of the “little forest” is apparent, but both places share a common denominator:  healthy habitat produces a diversity of breeding birds.

If you are interested in a guided tour of the Middle Run Birding Trail, join me for a free public bird walk at Middle Run on Sunday, June 27, from 8:00 to 11:00am.  We will meet in the parking lot off of Possum Hollow Road.  Enjoy a hike focusing on finding and studying the unique breeding birds of this special county park.  Come meet some of the birds pictured here!

*  All images taken on May 21, 2010, at the Middle Run Birding Trail.

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