Thursday, February 18, 2016

Familiar in the Foreign

American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla)

I have been in the Dominican Republic for a month and will be here for at least two more. It has been fantastic to live and work in a foreign country. I've learned a lot--about tropical ecology, the history of Hispaniola, and the Spanish language. And the birds! I could tell you all about the exotic lifers, like this Palmchat (a monotypic family!):

Palmchat (Dulus dominicus)

But instead, I'll bore you with photos of a common Neotropical migrant. Redstarts are ubiquitous through much of eastern North America. I've seen thousands. But, I've never seen a redstart in February (unless you want to count a handful of wayward California winterers). 

 Redstarts are hyper

Redstarts, like many other insectivorous species from the North Woods, retire to Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America for the cold months. Different species have different distributions; the Black-throated Green Warbler, for example, is abundant in Mexico and northern Central America but much less common in the Antilles. Redstarts are abundant in Central America (I saw lots in the Yucatan), but here in the Caribbean they seem to be even more numerous.

This particular individual (which I dubbed Chewy for the redstart's sweet chew call note) defends a wintering territory that includes the backyard of our field house. It appears around 3PM every afternoon to forage in the brush pile at the base of our satellite dish.

I must admit that it is strange to feel more enamored with redstart than with the endemics (Narrow-billed Tody! Hispaniolan Oriole!) Perhaps it is because these warblers undertake epic journeys of thousands of miles to winter here, while the Palmchats just sit on top of palm spikes their entire lives.

Or maybe it reflects my background, bias, and sentiments as a temperate birder. I have lots of memories with redstarts. It's almost as if Chewy were my childhood friend--as if a bit of fluff could be a friend.

Whatever the reason, I've enjoyed seeing Chewy and other familiar warblers on their wintering grounds. They have traded spruce for cecropia, snow for sunshine. As have I.

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