A Migratory Convention and a Swamp Songster

By Dave Hanks

As my wife and I travel, we seem to often become “caught up” in people traffic jams. Once on North Padre Island in Texas, it just happened to be college spring break time. We were on a one lane road that was so congested that turning around was impossible. That forced us to go all the way to the end to make the turn. It took several hours of creeping and crawling to get back to the ferry and escape the horde of students. We got into a like situation on the Oregon coast. At the very spot we wanted to be, to photograph, there was a wine-tasting festival going on.

Recently, we flew to South Padre Island to take advantage of the spring bird migration. Well, there was a huge migration of bikers at a motorcycle convention. I didn’t even want to get out of our rental car. Carolyn said she would go look to see if there was any bird activity. She came dashing back, gasping, and saying, “it’s just like you died and went to Heaven”. Birds of all kinds were everywhere, close up and having a convention of their own. Having just flown across the Gulf of Mexico, they were tired and glad to rest and feed in the available bushes.

One species that we rarely see, and that was present, was the Prothonotary Warbler. A songster, also called the Swamp Warbler, because it is always found close to water. It nests in the south-eastern USA swamps after a migration from its wintering area of Central America. It is one of only two warblers that nest in tree cavities (the other being Lucy’s Warbler). Old woodpecker holes are used for nesting.

Warblers are very small, insectivorous, flitting, songbirds; most of which are to be found east of the Mississippi. The Prothonotary is one of the larger ones and also one of the brightest with its brilliant yellow head and chest. Prothonotary is a term that refers to Catholic Church clerks that recorded important pontifical events. They wore bright yellow robes, hence the name source for this bird.

(Prothonotary - A bark foraging bird at rest after migration)