I first saw the bird as I was bicycling down Lincoln Street and nearing the intersection with Katlian. It flew across in front of me, and I thought it looked like an Orange-crowned warbler. As it had been over a month since the my last observation of an Orange-crowned Warbler, I decided to investigate. Initially the bird flew from the Pioneer Home side of the road to the sidewalk in front of Harry Race, but I did not find it there. I took a chance and went back over to the Pioneer Home Lawn and looked around in the hedge. I was able to locate it there, and it did not take long for me to realize that it looked different than any other warbler I had seen.
The most striking feature of the bird’s plumage was the bright yellow throat. It flitted about through the roses bushes much like an Orange-crowned Warbler might, but it did not look like any Orange-crowned Warblers that I had ever seen. I was able to get a few pictures before it flew further down the hedge and I lost sight of it. Rather than try to relocate it, I continued on my way and figured I would take a look at my photos when I got back to my computer.
Upon looking at the photos and comparing what I saw with what was in the bird books, my best guess was that the bird was a Nashville Warbler. It seemed like it could possibly also be a Common Yellowthroat (which I have not seen before), also. Common Yellowthroats occur in Southeast Alaska each year, but Nashville Warblers do not normally come north of Interior Southern British Columbia. That is their breeding range, and by this time they should be well on to their southern winter range. For these reasons, I felt uncertain about the identification and sent out e-mails to a couple of Alaska Birding lists.
In the meantime, I headed back down to the Pioneer Home in the afternoon to see if I could get some better photos. I looked closely as I walked along the hedges, but had no luck finding the bird after 15 minutes or so. About that time, someone else showed up to look for the bird also, and then I saw it. Actually, I saw two birds. The brief glimpse of the birds together made me think they were both the same species, but I never got a really good look at each of them (as far as I know), so I am not certain about that. I was able to get a few more photos, but the bird was very active, and tended to be at least partially obscured by leaves.
I was a little curious about what the bird was finding to eat, so I turned over some of the leaves and saw very small aphids. They were presumably frozen, but I guess that’s what the warbler was consuming.
When I got back to my computer, I the responses from the birding lists were all affirmative for Nashville Warbler. I later learned that this was only the fourth confirmed record in the state. Two years ago one made it all the way to Gambell. Last year, there were two different birds (a month apart) in Ketchikan. Prior to those records, there had been reports of Nashville Warblers, but none of them were confirmed. I’m not sure what the minimum requirements for confirmation are, but the photos I was able to get were adequate in this case.
I went back to look briefly once more yesterday (the day after I first saw the bird) and was not able to find it, though I did not spend much time looking. Someone else told me about seeing it earlier that morning, so it did at least spend the night in the area. I may check once more in the next day or two, but I do not expect to find the bird again.