Number observed: 1
Details: Found earlier in the afternoon by Tom, who asked us all to come over because he was having trouble with the ID.
The warbler was actively feeding in the goldenrod and joe pye weed, occasionally popping up and offering brief, unobstructed views before dropping down and out of sight.
The bird had a white eye ring which was complete and very bold. Plumage was drab and rather nondescript, but the yellow undertail was noticeable. It had faint streaking on the flanks, no wing bars, and pink/dark legs. We could not settle on an ID. It had the complete eye-ring of a Nashville but not its plumage, and no tail-pumping was observed. We thought of Virginia's Warbler, since it also has a prominent eye ring and is more gray, but that didn't really match either, and would way out of range for NY. The plumage seemed more similar to Orange-crowned, but the bill seemed too heavy for all three of these species. Tom had considered Yellow Warbler, (YEWA), but the bird seemed too gray, and we had never seen one with such a bold white eye ring. What were we missing? Did we have a rare subspecies of a common warbler? A rare warbler? A hybrid?
On my way home, I found a YEWA photo from the Warbler Guide that showed a first year female with pale, dull plumage and white eye ring. The bill looked similar to our mystery bird, but the eye ring was not as bold, plus the plumage shown in the guide was more common in the southwest. I took a screen shot and texted it to the others. Possible, but what were the chances that a SW bird would be in NY?
When I got home, I processed my photos, then decided to have some fun with the ID. A Twitter poll was created to solicit feedback, and more research followed. You can see the results on my Twitter page:
The link to the "Mystery Warbler Quiz" is here:
I had decided not to list YEWA as a choice, just to see if folks would consider it without prompting. Some of them did. As they chimed in, the votes shifted from Nashville to "Other", with "Other" eking out a win. A few people stated that they had seen plenty of first year YEWAs in the NE that looked like this one (thanks to Gabe Willow who produced a Sibley illustration of immature female northern YEWA), and that the bold eye ring was not a problem for them.
Photos, taken under different lighting conditions ~1hr 15 min apart, are below. No color correction was applied, it was interesting to see how much color variation resulted based on time of day. I think the colors shown in the last three photos are more representative of what I remember seeing in the field.
A few people considered Mourning or Connecticut Warbler (presumably based on the first photo), but those species were never contenders for those of use who actually viewed the bird.Media: