Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2011-20

Common name:

Palm Warbler

Scientific name: (Dendroica palmarum) [Setophaga palmarum]  [palmarum, or "Western" ssp Group]
Date: 9 May 2011
Time: 6:50 - 7:35 pm
Length of time observed: 20 minutes then two short views later
Number: 1
Age: adult
Sex: ?
Location: canal west of MASOB bldg at 195 N 1950 W, next to I-215, Salt Lake City, UT
County: Salt Lake
Latilong:  ?
Elevation: ?
Distance to bird: approximately 10 feet at closest, but more often at about 20-40 feet
Optical equipment: Leica 10x42 BA binoculars
Weather: Overcast and drizzling on-off
Light Conditions: Flat & subdued. The freeway embankment formed a backdrop to my observations, which also helped in preventing backlighting.
Description:        Size of bird: warbler size (about 4-5")
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Wood-warbler shape
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Dark brownish above, pale below
(Description:)            Bill Type: thin, sharp, warbler bill
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
I first noticed the warbler after hearing an unusual chip note, which was not loud but was sharp, which I rendered as "tchick" or "dik" in my notes. I saw a warbler gleaning about 20 feet up in a Russian olive tree and was able to make out the brownish back and distinct pale eyebrow stripe. I ran to my car and grabbed my binoculars and was able to relocate the bird quickly because of its chipping. The following description comes from about 20 minutes of observing the bird with my binoculars, plus two brief views afterwards when I tried unsuccessfully to photograph it as it moved up & down the canal, mostly low in the vegetation.

1) The bird was a fairly uniform dark olivy brown above, from hindneck to tail, including the wings. The wings each had two indistinct pale (olivy yellow) wing-bars, not at all bright.
2) The forecrown was distinctly chestnut, fading gradually to brown by the hindcrown.
3) The face had a distinct black eyestripe continuing through the eye; a distinct, pale yellow eyebrow stripe (supercilium); a dark eye; white arcing below eye and the front of the face.
4) The throat was bright yellow and had distinct black malar stripes.
5) Breast & belly were grayish white with dark streaking, becoming more diffuse below. The vent was distinctly and contrastingly yellow.
6) Tail was dark above, but I did not get a clear view of it below, though I did see a flash of white once, which seemed to only come from a portion of the tail. The bird repeatedly swung its tail side to side (it seemed like it swung the tail more to the righ than left, but that may have been an illusion), not up and down. This movement was not as quick as a flick, nor was it as slow as a waterthrush's pump. My notes described this tail jerking motion as a side to side "swish." The tail did not fan out during this tail movement as in some other species like Neotropical/Nearctic redstarts or a Fan-tailed warbler.
7) Tail was relatively short for a warbler.
8) I strongly believe the bill was dark.

(see photos)

After looking at photos from other people, I am surprised to see the yellow splotches on the bird's breast.  It is interesting how the camera can capture things that the eye misses, even after 20 minutes of (albeit spotty) viewing.  Almost all of my views were from the side or above.  This really underlines the importance of photos.  However, I still believe this is a Western palm warbler rather than a Yellow palm warbler.

Song or call & method of delivery: It did not sing, but it did repeatedly chip, as described above:
"...unusual chip note, which was not loud but was sharp, which I rendered as 'tchick' or 'dik' in my notes." I'm not known for my warbler chip ID skills, but this one was different enough from the "usual" warblers to catch my attention while walking to my car, even with heavy freeway noise from nearby. It chipped every few seconds initially, then slowed to an occasional chip once I started pursuing it.
Behavior: I first noticed it when it was gleaning about 20 feet up in a Russian olive, mid-canopy. It then moved down lower into the thicker vegetation near the water as I approached (mostly Russian olives and small tamarisks), where it continued to glean, hopping about from branch to branch in typical warbler fashion. It moved up and down the canal for about 300-400 feet, probably in part herded by my efforts to get closer. It always stayed behind the chain-link fence except for one moment when it alighted on top of it. It mostly stayed down fairly low in the thicker vegetation within a few feet of the water.
Habitat: Russian olives over a trash-filled canal sandwiched between a slope leading up to a freeway (I-215) and a four story building. There were other tree species, like Tamarisk, but these were definitely not dominant. The canal extends for at least many hundreds of feet to the north, both next to parking lots (where I first noticed it on the south end of the canal) and the back of an office building providing more privacy, plus other parking lots to the north. The slope leading up to the freeway is grassy/weedy and mostly open. The constant roar of passing traffic is quite oppressive to this human observer.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
This species is quite distinct, both in appearance and tail-wagging behavior. But here goes...

There are no sparrows with that shape of bill or gleaning behavior. The chipping sparrow does have a rufous crown and vaguely similar face, but has a gray hindneck and no yellow throat. In fact, the yellow throat dispenses with all other N. American sparrows.

Tennessee warblers have white vents and lack chestnut caps and breast streaking.

Orange-crowned warblers lack this extent of chestnut in their crowns, have no black malar stripes, and don't have enough breast striping (plus lack white breast & belly).

Virginia's warblers have chestnut caps and yellow throat & vents, but lack the facial pattern of this bird, not to mention the back color is all wrong.

Cape May warblers lack a chestnut crown. Ditto Audubon's warblers.

Bay-breasted & Blackpoll warblers have strong wing bars on wings more strongly contrasting with the back.

Waterthrushes lack yellow throats and sway their tails in a different manner.

Blue-winged warblers and its various hybrids have strong wing bars and yellow not chestnut caps.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I have seen both subspecies groups of this species (yellow-breasted and white breasted) both on my trips back East and to Mesoamerica (a lot of them in Belize, if I recall)
References consulted: National Geographic guide shortly afterwards. But the species is obvious, so I was concentrating on noting field marks rather than confirming what I already knew. I took notes on my palm, which I found appropriately ironic for this species.
Description from: Notes taken at time of sighting
Observer: David S. Wheeler
Observer's address: 2196 South 1000 East, Salt Lake City, UT 84106
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: The following morning several other birders twitched their way to the site and relocated the warbler, including Dennis Shirley, Dave Hanscom, Pomera Fronce, Cindy Sommerfield, and Robert Mortensen. There were likely others.
Date prepared: 10 May 2011
Additional material: Photos
Additional_Comments: Robert Mortensen says he obtained some photos and will send them to me so I can append them to this report.