BRIGHTER THAN THE SUN: A STORY OF PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS
With spring migration now well underway, I thought, what better subject for my next blog than the Prothonotary Warbler! One of the earliest of spring migrants, these bright yellow balls of awesomeness stole my heart years ago.
Magee Marsh and the black swamp hold a special place in my heart, as formative areas that much of what I do now is shaped by. The second trip that I ever made to that wonderful place changed my life forever. With a budding love for both birds and now photography, I was walking the boardwalk hoping for some magic. It was early spring, and many of the usual suspects were out and about. Yellow Warblers, Kinglets, Blackbirds, and Blue Jays were all around, and I couldn’t have been more excited. I was like a kid in a candy store!
While walking and talking with a friend on the west side of the boardwalk, we reached a spur that lead out to a small platform in the marsh. We moved onto that part of the boardwalk to let others go past. And at that moment, something quickly flashed in front of my eyes. To my amazement, a Prothonotary Warbler had nearly flown right into the back of my head while swooping in for a quick ant snack! All I could think to do was lift the camera and start shooting. Sadly, I cannot find those photos, but I will say that it was difficult to mess up a photo of a Prothonotary Warbler when you can’t even get the whole bird in the frame! My heart exploded with amazement at the colors and attitude of that bird. I became obsessed with getting better photos of the birds I saw after that day, and I’ve never stopped!
For those readers that are not familiar with the amazing migrants that travel through Ohio and other eastern States each year to reach their breeding grounds both here and to the north, as you look at these photos you’ll begin to understand the title of this blog. The yellow of a Prothonotary Warbler is the brightest yellow that I have ever seen on a bird! Every time I see one I think of it as a little ball of sunshine. Often called a “Swamp Warbler” in the south, these large warblers are usually found bouncing around the understory of swampy forests and oft flooded fields and creeks. They make their homes in the holes of still standing dead trees.
Interestingly enough, these birds got their names from the bright yellow robes worn by papal clerks in the roman catholic church, and it’s interesting story doesn’t end there! In 1948, the Prothonotary Warbler became famous in the Alger Hiss trial. Hiss was accused of being a soviet spy, and the verdict hinged on whether or not Hiss knew a man named Whittaker Chambers, a former member of the U.S. Communist Party. The connection was made when Chambers noted that Hiss was quite excited about seeing a Prothonotary Warbler along the Potomac River, and this led to a guilty decision for Hiss, and the rise of Richard Nixon to political power.
Finding these birds in the springtime is, for the most part, a fairly simple endeavor. Granted, there is always a bit of luck and a bit of skill required to find most birds, Prothonotary Warblers are fairly reliable finds in the right habitats. They like to breed in wooded swamps and flooded forests. They also frequent wooded areas along rivers and streams. These birds have a pretty varied diet, eating various insects, moths, caterpillars, grasshoppers and other small invertebrates. They will even eat snails and mollusks! If seeing one of these birds up close is definitely on your list of things to do, why not join Wildside at the Biggest Week in American Birding? Chances are very good for up close and personal looks at this warbler, along with many more! It’s bound to be an amazing time that you won’t want to miss!
As always folks, thank you for reading, and GOOD BIRDING!
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