Rare MacGillivray’s Warbler at Lake Shenandoah

MacGillivray’s Warbler, Lake Shenandoah Pollinator Trail | Photo Credit: Diane Lepkowski

Rare MacGillivray’s Warbler graces DWR’s Lake Shenandoah Pollinator Trail!

We think of pollinator plantings as hosting, well, pollinators: bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects. Some birds, such as hummingbirds, do of course serve as pollinators though we generally don’t connect pollinator plantings with birds. But wait!

By late fall, with their elegant flowering days in the seasonal rear-view mirror, the Lake’s pollinator beds were a mass of dry, brown, shoulder-high remains. While perhaps not very attractive to the unknowing eye, a birds-eye-view (from a different angle than above!) tells an ENTIRELY different story! In fall and winter, these plants offer cover and much-need food (seeds and some insects) to sparrows, finches and more.   

By late November, the plantings hosted our expected wintering birds including White-throated, Song, Swamp, and Field Sparrows; American Goldfinches; and House Finches. But on November 27, a sharp-eyed birder spotted a colorful bird – bright yellow below, greenish above, gray hood, and with the distinctive bold, white eye-arcs that suggested the extremely rare and MOST unexpected MacGillivray’s Warbler!   

The MacGillivray’s Warbler is a western species; it breeds through the Rocky Mountains and other western mountain ranges and winters in Central and South America. A skulker, it typically forages on the ground and low in dense growth, seeking insects, and is difficult to find in plain view. On November 28, the bird was relocated and photographed, confirming its ID. News of the rarity spread quickly, and birders from all corners of Virginia and beyond traveled to find the bird, many making multiple trips until finally seeing it.   

The pollinator plantings hosted a couple of other rarities during this time, including an American Tree Sparrow and late-migrating Cape May Warblers. But this was the FIRST EVER record of a MacGillivray’s Warbler in western Virginia and only the third accepted record in the State. The warbler was last reported on December 21, winter’s first day. The winter storm and single-digit temperatures that followed may have been difficult for the little guy; we hope that he found his way south!

– Diane Lepkowski, Cohort VII, December 2022

Lake Shenandoah is becoming quite the hot spot. … eBird (indicates) the lake is the most diverse birding spot in the valley.

Jason Hallacher, District Fisheries Biologist, VA Department of Wildlife Resources

eBird has an option to print a checklist for every hotspot. The eBird Field Checklist for Lake Shenandoah as of the end of 2022 is HERE.

Photo at right shows now Chapter advisor Jason Hallacher leading our Cohort VI training class along the pollinator trail in October 2018. Lisa Klein wrote about it HERE. Photo by Sandy Greene, Cohort I.

Lake Shenandoah is one of many local sites on The Virginia Bird and Wildlife Trail which are monitored by members of our Chapter.

More about Lake Shenandoah from the Department of Wildlife Resources’ website HERE and HERE.