Image of the Month October 2021: Pink-headed Warbler

Photographer: Adam Riley   Destination: Mexico

For just a split second a small flutter suddenly catches your eye, as if a dainty, brightly coloured leaf has tumbled down from the forest canopy. It disappears abruptly but that isn’t exactly unexpected, and you have an inkling of an idea what it might be. All around the distinctive scent of pine and conifer fill the air. Your experience and knowledge work to your advantage and once again movement, a leaf tremors and then just as you suspected, out pops a small fine bill and head, followed by a delicate body, exquisitely patterned. To top it all off it then starts to sing the sweetest of songs. The prize is first-class, the moment is cherished, the experience is delightful. The Pink-headed Warbler is a jewel among the American Wood-Warblers, a familiar family for many of us and whether you grew up with them lighting up a spring day or its your first ever encounter with one they are always a treat! 

The New World Warbler family brims with character, is extremely diverse and they occupy a variety of niches within the woodland and forest belts of North and South America. Species variety within the family is large, with 120 currently recognised taxa and many of these are long distance migrants, breeding in North America and wintering in Central and South America. Some species are common and widespread, familiar garden favourites such as Yellow-rumped, Wilson’s, Black-and-white, Orange-crowned and Yellow while others are notoriously scarce and some becoming even more so such as Golden-winged, Kirtland’s, Connecticut and Cerulean. Rarer still are those with small, localised ranges such as Flame-throated Warbler of Costa Rica and Panama’s cloud forest zone, Colima Warbler from southern Texas and isolated sites through Mexico or our featured species, the gorgeous Pink-headed Warbler from Guatemala and Mexico. Sadly, there are also a few species that are no longer with us such as Bachman’s Warbler, which used to occur through SE USA and parts of the Midwest, wintering in Cuba. Bachman’s Warbler was last seen in the 1960’s, although a 1988 record is often accepted as being the last ever documented. The species has just been officially declared extinct. Another species that is likely no longer with us is Semper’s Warbler, an endemic to the island of St. Lucia in the Lesser Antilles chain. The last confirmed sighting was back in 1961 although habitat does remain, keeping hopes up that perhaps a few have managed to escape the wrath of introduced mongoose. 

Plumage variation and markings differ noticeably within the group, and many are brightly coloured or distinctively patterned. One of the more striking members of the family is the beautiful Pink-headed Warbler, a species that is confined to the coniferous and pine-oak forests of the Guatemalan highlands and north into the Chiapas of southern Mexico. Its beauty and general scarcity make it a prized find for visiting birders and nature lovers. It is an active species and feeds at all levels in the forest and is often associated with mixed feeding flocks, which are always high adrenaline moments when forest birding in the neotropics. 

The striking Pink-headed Warbler and many others such as the magnificent Horned Guan, Azure-rumped Tanager, Blue-throated Motmot, Goldman’s Warbler and Fulvous Owl can all be seen on our tours through Guatemala and the Chiapas in Mexico. These tours also offer spectacular scenery (often surrounded by volcanoes), delicious food and coffee while the depth of history is also noticeable as we take time to explore some of the fabulous Mayan ruins. We look forward to seeing you there.