Friday, January 20, 2012

The Northern Parula at Estero Llano Grande State Park

My first sighting of a Northern Parula was at Stephen F. Austin State Park in April of 2006.  That sighting’s Parula was doing exactly what you’d expect:  moving about the upper canopy of the campground’s taller hardwood trees, foraging in and out of the Spanish Moss.  My views were almost straight up, over my head, with my 10x42s sharing incomplete glimpses of body parts as it moved about the canopy.   

I was thankful that I’d learned the habit of more seasoned birders, scanning the upper canopies of trees, looking for movement and hoping for something good.  I was thrilled when I spotted that day’s new lifer.  I stood and watched the Northern Parula for a good 30 minutes, until my arms began complaint and my neck felt like it was about to freeze in the uncomfortable skyward angle.   It was an easy identification with its distinctive coloring and bill, but I wished for a view of the total bird, holding still for more than two seconds.

This week gave me opportunity to visit Estero Llano Grande State Park, one of the nine sites that make up the RGV’s World Birding Center.  The birding at Estero was fantastic, including a granting of my wish from 2006.  I was slowly walking the trail to the Visitor’s Center after a morning of unsuccessful searching for the Rose-throated Becard, recently sighted in the park's Tropical Area.  
I saw a small bird blast past me, headed toward the citrus treats to the left of the cobblestone trail.  It would be easy to ignore, making assumption toward another Orange-crowned Warbler.  But I have a special fondness for the Orange-crowned, and I am not particularly inclined to ignore any bird that may grant me viewing.  I was delighted with full viewing of this Northern Parula as it gleaned the sweet juices of the citrus pinwheels:

One of the more distinct features of the Northern Parula is its bill.  The upper mandible (upper half of bill) is dark, blending in color with the crown of its head; the lower mandible (lower half of bill) is pale, blending in color with the beautiful yellow throat and breast:

More advanced birders will note the darkish toes, contrasted to the yellow toes of many field guides and photographs.  I do not know if this is a non-mating color, a first winter coloring, or simply a nominal range of coloring that is more frequently yellow. 

I also noted from my own web searches that hybridization between the Northern and Tropical Parula (in Texas) is considered frequent in occurrence.  The subtle markings of this Parula’s breast and head, and my own inexperience with this species cause me to wonder if it has some hybridization heritage. 
This particular view gave me pause to stop and pay tribute to its beauty:

Every once in a while Mother Nature simply grants our wish, and for me it was a close range, full viewing of this beautiful Wood-Warbler.  Of course like most granted wishes, it involves some effort on our part.  And for me, it was a great day in the field at the very unique Estero Llano Grande State Park.

NOTE:  I would welcome comments to this blog regarding the photos.  I would especially welcome comments from more seasoned birders with knowledge regarding the toes and/or hybridization markings of Parulas.  And for those of you birders not familiar with blogging, simply “click on” the “__ Comments” text link directly below this blog (next to the “Posted by Emily” timestamp phrase).  The “__” may be 0, 1, 2, etc. depending on whether or not others have posted a Comment.  On the “Leave a Comment” page, after you type into the Leave a Comment box, you are asked to provide the “Word Verification” phrase as shown.  This adds safety to the comment posts.  And in terms of your identification, you can choose Anonymous—but I hope you’ll add your first name to your comment so that I’ll know the source.  So Elric, Jim, Rick, John, Audrey, Javier and others—what say you regarding the toes and coloring of this particular Parula?


  1. I am not one of your expert birder friends but what struct me as interesting was the way the tip of the bill (or is the beak) seems to cross at the tips. I think that is what I observe in these most amazing photos.


  2. Good photos of a difficult bird to photograph. The second photo is my favorite.

    Tropicals have more extensive (wider) yellow on the throat and the yellow extends down the breast farther to the belly.

  3. A birder I am not, though I truly enjoyed my first birding experience thanks to you. But how amazing are these photos? The military could use some tips on camouflage from the Pauraque.


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