I wasn’t initially planning to go out to Prospect Park on Labor Day. Given that I live right at the end of the route for the West Indian Day Parade, the crowds of the noise are usually quite excessive. It’s just too much trouble to get up and down Eastern Parkway. However, when I heard from Peter Dorosh that a Mourning Warbler had been seen at the south end of the Vale of Kashmir, right near where I usually enter the park, it was just too tempting.
I headed out just after 11:00 AM. Fortunately the start of the parade was just beginning to reach the end of the Eastern Parkway, and the crowds are not too excessive yet submitted to the park fairly quickly and got to the Vale about 11:15. I promptly ran into Tom Stephenson who was also out looking for the bird and hoping to photograph it. We wandered around a bit, later being joined by Phil Malek, and kept looking for the Mourning Warbler. We had some tantalizing possibilities but nothing that looked definite, especially given that there were at least two and probably more Common Yellowthroats wandering around in the vicinity.
The Mourning Warbler is not an especially uncommon bird around here, but it is one that is relatively hard to find because it is a real skulker. It likes to get down in the leaf litter and below the leaves and not come out very much where it can be seen. Tom played the calls and the song of the Mourning Warbler but we didn’t get any responses. That’s not too surprising in the fall when birds are generally not singing and not paying much attention to their song.
Round about noon, Tom decided give up the search and headed home before the parade traffic got too disastrous; and as often happens about 10 minutes later as I was walking along the fence down toward Nellies Lawn, up popped the bird. It was a small brown bird with a completely yellow underside. It was considerably thinner and pointier than a female Common Yellowthroat, the most similar local species. However a Yellowthroat is a much fatter bird. It usually looks like it swallowed a ping-pong ball. This bird was much skinnier and showed complete yellow underneath, not just yellow on the throat and the undertail coverts. The bird also had either a thin eye ring or eye arcs — I didn’t have quite long enough look to tell whether the eye ring was connected or not. On the Mourning Warbler you’d expect that it wouldn’t be connected; on a Yellowthroat you’d expect that it would be. I couldn’t definitively say one way or the other. However, given the expensive yellow on the underside of the bird all the way down to the undertail coverts, and especially given the shape of the bird which was very slender not at all yellowthroat like, I’m very confident in saying that this was a Mourning Warbler.