The Spanish Conquistadors entered the America's at the turn of the 15th century and well into the 16th. They seemed to have one main purpose, and that was to find oro....or gold. Being greatly outnumbered, the conquistadors managed to force the collapse of entire empires and in doing so, completely eradicated the culture and much of their history. Such a shame....all for gold and god. The Jesuits in particular (the 'god' end of things) are considered by many archaeologists as the single most damaging element to historical perseverance in the Americas. As I said, such a shame.
Yet.... while the conquistadors built churches of gold and sent entire galleons loaded with oro back to Spain, luckily.....luckily....they missed one piece of gold. The Prothonotary Warbler. Yes, that is pure gold.
If you have ever seen a Prothonotary Warbler, your eyes will be mesmerized by the color, the golden color.... Not just any old 'yellow'. I am not putting down the Yellow Warblers or Prairie, or Hooded Warblers and making their showcase of 'emperors clothing' any less. No sir.... That is a fine bit of yellow they wear. Likewise for the Common Yellowthroat and Yellow Rumped Warbler or Canada. All fine....all fine. But one just has to allow the Prothonotary Warbler to stand in a separate category when it comes to their emperor's clothing. The shimmer of that golden tint as they forage from branch to branch amongst the green of budding leaves...ah, simply extraordinary.
The conquistadors walked right past these creatures.....never knowing they were passing up gold. They didn't load them in crates and send them back to Spain, but rather....were too focused on the physical aspect of gold itself that they allowed their eyes to walk right past what was evidently smiling down upon them as they trudged by.
A simple Prothonotary Warbler.... Have you seen yours yet this year? Take a trip down to the Beanery (Rea's Farm) in Cape May and find 'oro'. Or, just past Shamong Township on Highway 206, visit Bear Swamp--Red Lion Preserve. Drive down Hawkins Road until you get to a small bridge over Little Creek. From there, to the east about 10 yards is a trail. Take it. Walk about 50 yards inland and take the first left trail you can find. From there you will find about 3-4 Prothonotary Warbler nesting boxes embedded 'in' Little Creek. Just sit patiently now and wait. Gold will come to you.
Today, is the day after yesterday....which was a stellar birding day for me at Cape May....(See previous post). Was I tempting fate by returning to Cape May and looking for another stellar birding day? I think not, for remember cowboys and girls, this is South Jersey during Spring Migration and nothing can be taken for granted. Who knows what will show? Deb decided not to go with me and slept in so I was on my own.
According to Ebird...the Swainson's was not around or at least not reported but I was thinking of returning to Higbees and seeing if there was any crowds standing around any one particular area and if so, chances are it would be where the Swanson's was.
So, off I went.....and got into Higbee just shy of 9....plenty of time. A bit cool, no rain...... So off I went. Again, like yesterday there was a deluge of Indigo Buntings and Eastern Kingbirds, but no large crowd to point my way to the Swanson's. I asked a few folks and no one saw or heard or I might add, no one knew where FIELD 1 was either...... Cape May, HINT: Mark your Fields at Higbee.
Well....what do to? I didn't want my day to be the same as yesterday so I opted to get in my car and to go south, just a bit as I didn't want to end up in the ocean. I put on the brakes near The Meadows and decided to see if I could find any Common Snipes. I 'clockwised' the path as opposed to 'counterclockwising' the path and took the turn up to the platform. Right over my head flew my first Common Snipe. An odd looking bird in flight. If it was a human 'running' I would say it takes 'baby steps' but since it is a bird in flight, I suppose it takes babyflaps. (A not so smooth chunky looking bird in flight working twice as hard to get from Point A to B....)
Around the ocean bend I went and ran into a couple of folks from Oregon. Now...I lived all but three years of my life in the Pacific Northwest so I was excited to see someone who could talk my language. For instance, Oregon is pronounced more like "Organ' ...instead of 'Or-i-gone' as I hear people out here pronounce that lovely state. ....So we chatted and I chased them up near BellePlain and Forsythe for more birding. Again, nice to see some Northwesterner's out here enjoying the world class birding that Jersey has to offer. I must admit, my heart belongs in the Northwest but 'birding' back west doesn't share a candle to that in Jersey.
So....not much going on at the Meadows except a few Yellowthroat and Field Sparrows although the latter were busy copulating. In between the time I was attempting to focus my bins and when I did, I missed it....
Well, since I was so close to Cape May State Park I decided to venture on in and meander on over to my favorite spot on the trail. I found out a few years ago that the best spot on the trail around Bunker pond is about half way in. There is a meadow with tall stands of trees, perfect for Warblers and the like.
I went in....... Then immediately say a young family with a few kids. Hmmmm...kids or dogs, which one is worse? Of course I hope to get my grandsons into birding so I have to think, not all kids are bad. Well, these kids just passed on thru with their grandpa leaving me alone in my meadows. It wasn't long before I saw my first 'yellow'....Bingo...Magnolia Warbler. It flirted around the cedar tree in front of me. Nice, real nice.
Second 'yellow'....Yellowthroat. Third 'yellow'....Chat. No chatting, but a Chat. Another 'yellow'....wait, what is that? A Baltimore Oriole? Kerching, nice.... I followed that one for quite sometime as it was after the caterpillars in their spiderweb like homes. It pulled it out one by one and gutted it looking for the juicy protein inside and then just dropped the carcass down to the ground. Another couple came by and we begin noticing two more Baltimore Orioles. All told, papa, mama and juvenile. Nice....
A couple of other folks came up, one with a large camera and he started ticking off shots. Other birds started to show including a Black and White Warbler, Carolina Wrens, Yellow Warblers, Bewicks, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Yo man, jackpot in my favorite end of the trail. I love Orioles and to see a cross-generation of them as in had here was awesome.
Coming close to noon now and things starting to slow......I made way to the observatory once more to see if the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were still hanging but no...in fact the entire place was pretty quiet. Funny, so stalked with birds yesterday and so empty today. Go figure, birding! But I did manage to go inside and ask them where Field 1 was at Higbee. I didn't get an answer but I did get a small map which showed where the location of the field numbers were. Okay, I am good to go.
Plenty of birds in two days and now, I know where Field 1 is at Higbee.
Friday.......One rainy day. But, I have been looking at the latest Ebird reports and I hear that there are two unique birds down in Cape May....one being a Snow Bunting (my nemesis for the past few years and a lifer) as well as a Swanson's Warbler, which would be a Jersey lifer for me but hasn't hit the nemesis category. So, rain or not, I go. I have my rain pants, jacket, a green rain poncho I bought in Ecuador for $1.50.... I can handle it.
I am in no rush since it is raining and I figure if I leave my house at 8am, the weathermen tell me that the rain should subside by 10am. I have absolutely no faith in the weathermen down here in Jersey but figure that sometime this morning, there might be a break in the clouds. I hit Higbee Beach around 9:30 and it is pouring, but, I have my $1.50 poncho. From the Twitter reports, the Swanson's Warbler has been heard and perhaps sighted in Field 1. Now, which one is field 1? I see the parking lot, the porta-potty, another parking lot, a few fields but, none are marked as Field 1. Why not have the fields marked? Or perhaps a small map on the side of the porta-potty ID'ing the fields? ..... ?? Anyhow, off I go to the right of the porta-potty. Field 1 maybe or field X4 or Area 51 or ? I see nor hear no Swanson's but I hear and see a ton of Indigo buntings. I mean dozens of these birds and in some spots one lone branch will have 5-6 bright blue male buntings. Awesome, simply awesome to see those numbers. It makes a birder feel like they hit the jack pot with all of the blue. But wait, there is more......in the same low grasslands there appears the color yellow, up and down...here and there. Kerching......Bobolinks. Perhaps 10-12 of them fluttering around in the field and back and forth between tree branches. Right off the bat I see bright blue and yellow, so the day is good.
One thing I notice about the Bobolinks is their uncanny resemblance to a Frank Sinatra movie which was just on a few months ago. The image below shows the way Frank and his buds wear their sailor hats, all cool...pushed back and just laying on the backside of their heads. Those guys look so cool and I wonder how come the hat doesn't fall off with all that dancing Gene Kelly? ... Now, look at the Bobolinks and notice their yellow caps. See their uncanny resemblance in their fashion style? The yellow is also pushed back and just laying on the back side of their heads but that yellow color ain't going nowhere. But very Hollywoodish I must say....
But....no Swainsons and a ton of rain. I decide that I will get in my car and drive down to Cape May State Park and find the Snow Bunting, my nemesis. I have been after that bird for 3 years now and maybe? this is the day? Onwards, and as I enter the parking lot, I see no cars. I am hoping that the rain hasn't chased away the little guy for this would be a lifer for me.
Driving the outskirts of the parking lot real slow-like, like a low-rider in southern California, I glide past the west end and up to the south end. About half-way I notice a nice white little bird, just pecking away at the grass in-between pebbles. Yes....the Snow Bunting has eluded me no more cowboy, no more.... Kerchung!...Chalk up a lifer. I stop and roll down the window allowing the rain to speckle my face and arm. But no worry....let me just soak this one in a bit. One bird 'pecks' alone and I must say, he is looking smarter than Frank Sinatra does in his Class A white Navy dress uniform. This forlorn little guy continues to nervously peck away at seeds in the grass for the entire 15-20 minutes I idly pass. If I could read his mind he was pecking away nervously, peck, peck...peck.... all the time taking a sneak peak out of the corner of each eye looking for his buddies. "Hey, ......where did you guys all go? I know it took me a while to dress in my 'whites' but, come on guys, quit playing games with me, where are you? " Peck, peck....more pecking. I begin to feel sorry for him. I think he was perhaps 'last in his class' academically and is now paying the price for not listening to the 'all call' of, time to take flight. But what can I do? Nothing.....so I put my low-rider 'feel' in gear and glide on out. I notice as I leave, another low-rider car 'glides in ' and takes my place as smooth as silk. This might go on all day as the lone Snow Bunting keeps on pecking, keeps on looking as birders stalked in low-riders quietly come to him. (Image below depicts a Snow Bunting and a version of a low-rider. I do not have that car and would never have that car).
So....one 'lifer' out the way and now, back to Higbee. First, I stop off at the Nature Observatory to warm up and dry. Lucky I did for around the feeders there are a dozen migrating Red-breasted Grosbeaks meandering around. A nice sight!... About that time the rain vanishes and sun appears. Wow...a great omen. I head out the door and notice a small group of birders led by a guide just up the street. So, heck...why not join. The sun has brought out bugs and with bugs, come birds. A nicely decorated Black and White Warbler (our creeper), a Yellow Warbler, a Golden Crowned Kinglet, Common Yellowthroats, Goldfinches, Black Throated Blue Warbler, a Northern Parula, Blue Gray Gnatcatchers.....ooooooo...a catch. All of those found within a few minutes just out front of the Nature Observatory and the lake. Those times, that many species of birds in such a few minutes reminds me of the tropics and yet, here I am in Jersey! Easy pickens.....love it!
Can the same good luck hold true if I high-tail it back to Higbee? ...Off I go. I pull up and scat from my car and into another field. Is this field 1? Or x or 5 or what? Label the fields guys. If you are Twittering out the field numbers, remember....not everyone is from Cape May. Which field is which? Field 1...where is it?
I go up and down the fields....listening for the Swainson's..... but no luck on this guy. He appears to have hunkered down and even with the swash of sun now hitting, this guy still is quiet...still unseen. I do notice Eastern Kingbirds though. In fact if I look out of my eyes like I would if slicing a pie, just in that degree of radius I count 15 Eastern Kingbirds sitting a top tall grass. 15...! and that is in just that 'slice of pie' view...These guys are all over the place. Everywhere I turn are Eastern Kingbirds. A flock of them must have fallen from the sky prior to the deluge of rain and now with the sun, they are all out eating. ....nice, real nice.
So....lots of birds today and even though a rainy day I know I finally hit my nemesis bird, the Snow Bunting.....saw a ton of Indigo Buntings, an equal number of Eastern Kingbirds.....Grossbeaks and other Warblers. All in all...a nice rainy day.