[Mnbird] Second-hand report of Swainson's Warbler (Afton State Park)

Kyle TePoel 88twins at gmail.com
Sun Sep 4 20:40:10 CDT 2022

First, I'll apologize: I'm cross-posting over a couple different email
lists and Facebook pages. I know not everyone is on everything (myself
included), but given the potential rarity here (would be a first state
record, I believe?), I figured I'd let everyone know that I can!

I received word from a visiting birder from Arizona that he and his wife
saw a Swainson's Warbler this morning at Afton State Park. He wanted me to
get the word out as he doesn't use eBird and isn't a member of any
Minnesota-based birding outlets online; I told him I would.

I was skeptical, as he expected me to be. We discussed other possibilities,
pored over his not-great photo, and I even went down to the park for 2
hours and tried to verify his find. I found a TON of warblers and other
migrants--highly recommend going if tomorrow is anything like today--but I
didn't find a Swainson's. Granted, there's dense, buckthorn-infested, steep
slopes on either side, tall grassy areas closer to the river that are far
from any trails and across a stream channel, and there were LOTS of people,
dogs, and noise in general. (The location where he saw it was between the
bridge and the beach, on the east side of the trail; this is down the hill,
following the main trail north from the visitor center.)

He is convinced of the ID (to his credit, he has been birding for 35 years,
has done his share of wildlife photography, and has been a guide at several
birding festivals). His description: "When we saw it (a little after 9 am),
it was feeding in clumps of leaves at the ends of branches (not in the leaf
litter on the ground as is the norm for this species). My very first look
at the bird, I was struck by the very distinct body shape. Long sharp light
colored bill, “capped” head pattern and overall warm brown color. I don’t
 have a distinct memory of the leg color."

The description in itself didn't sell me on the bird--it could be a
Red-Eyed Vireo in bad light, could be a Waterthrush, could be a
strongly-patterned Tennessee Warbler, etc...And the fact that it was in the
trees and not the ground is, while by no means outrageous, still not the
usual scenario for Swainson's.

However, his photo gives a little--if only a little--more credence to the
ID (I'll post it on Facebook). The head is unfortunately not seen from
behind a leaf, but its belly is clean, and its undertail covert pattern
might be one of the more helpful things in favor of a Swainson's ID. The
vent appears to have a yellowish tint, which could be partly a lighting
effect but looks real--I don't typically associate that with this species,
though I've seen a number of photos of Swainson's Warblers with yellow wash
on the underside (including both of the pictures on the bird's Wikipedia
page). The edges of some feathers do appear to reveal a rusty brownish
coloration through the sunlight (in particular, the tail and one wing). But
the feet appear to  be grey instead of pinkish. This may be the key point
in the photo AGAINST it being a Swainson's. But again, lighting could be at
play there.

Sorry for the long post. But I figured if there is indeed a Swainson's
Warbler there, some of you may want to try for it.

Kyle Te Poel
Stillwater Township
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