Tuesday, August 9, 2011
“The prothonotary has returned!” he said.
But as I stepped onto the wooden-planked path looping the lake at our local nature center, the excitement this announcer had hoped to read on my face as he joyfully told me of his discovery was clearly absent.
I didn’t know this bird and, although I might have been able to conjure up a vague image in my mind from browsing the plates of warblers in my field guide, the proclamation of its presence there meant little…to me.
Years later, I would learn this bird while walking one summer afternoon on another wetland boardwalk, deeply shaded and winding between tall swamp cottonwood trees that stood in several inches of water.
Eventually, I matched both sound and sight to the boldly yellow-colored warbler in my field guide--the Prothonotary.
An afternoon’s shelter from the strong light and heat of July and my pursuit of ebony jewelwings had given me a life bird, time to stand and watch it work this wetland habitat, time to soak in the rich sound as it spread across the water, golden as the bird from which it flowed.
For the remainder of that summer, I found prothonotary warblers everywhere.
From beside every lake that I canoed,
every quiet river that I kayaked,
every river-rimmed trail that I hiked, I found the song and it followed me--and often, gave a glimpse of the golden bird--until I knew it well and understood the joy of finding its return.
In the sunny meadow, a handful of the uncommon flutterbys skipped, barely stopping to nectar
before whisking past and out of camera range.
Yes, everything about this picture of a still, wooded wetland should suggest a prothonotary warbler. And, if the mangrove forests of coastal Central and South America had sustained him for the winter, the bird I found last year would be back to breed here once more.
Through the darkened woods, across the water that stretched between the cottonwood trees, came the resounding call—clear and bright as the little bird behind it. And, in knowing the bird, hearing his song as I’d heard it before in the very same spot along the trail, my heart made just a little extra beat.
No one felt it but me.
“The prothonotary had returned!”
The Prothonotary Warbler, Protonaria citrea, breeds in hardwood swamps and forested lakeshores of the southeastern United States and is named for the scribes (prothonotaries) in the Roman Catholic Church who wore golden, hooded robes. Dubbed the Golden Swamp Warbler by John James Audubon, it is the only eastern warbler to nest in tree cavities, often using the excavated holes of Downy Woodpeckers and building mossy nests in trees near or over standing water.
Adults forage in low foliage for aquatic insects, snails, flies, beetles and spiders.
Because the prothonotary warbler is extremely habitat specific, habitat loss (wooded wetlands in the southeastern US and mangrove swamps of Latin America) may cause this species to decline.
No matter where you might be on the birding curve—whether you’ve learned the prothonotary’s ringing call or have never even heard of such a bird, whether you’ve mastered all the species’ migration routes or are still fumbling to find the focus wheel of your binoculars—the Midwest Birding Symposium has something in it for YOU!
There’s no better way to improve your skills, than to put yourself smack in the middle of a bunch of better birders—experts who are passionate about sharing something they love with another and super-nice folks who fondly remember exactly where they were when someone showed them their first life birds.
It’s not too late to get registered.
You’ll be surprised how much fun birds and birders can be!
I’d love to see you there!