Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Yellow-rumped Warblers at Lava Beds National Monument

It was almost surreal watching the parade of different species visiting the water spigots in the campground at Lava Beds National Monument. As has been mentioned before, there are few open sources of water in the park, so the birds congregate at the campground in the mornings. There was some sort of pecking order, as one species would be drinking, they would leave, and then another would appear. We've already seen the Pinyon Jays, the Townsend's Solitaires, the Red Crossbills, and the Robins. In today's post we see the Yellow-rumped Warblers (Setophaga coronata). Their activity that morning highlighted an unfortunate problem at the campground.
I can't find any clear record of whether they like to eat mistletoe berries, but the warblers I saw in the campground certainly seemed to be foraging in the mistletoe clinging to the Juniper trees in the campsite. The mistletoe was the problem.

A bunch of American Conservation Corps (or YCC, I can't remember) workers were planting trees in the campground. When I asked, they pointed out that mistletoe was killing off most of the Junipers that provided shade in the camp, and so they were planting native Ponderosa Pines that will someday replace the dead Junipers.
The mistletoe berries provide a nutritious food source for the birds, but the birds also spread the sticky seeds from tree to tree. I imagine that a balance is usually maintained, but during the drought, the trees may not be able to fight off the parasites. That's my speculation, anyway.  In the meantime, it was delightful following the brightly colored birds throughout the morning in the camp.

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