A Positively Scintillant Prothonotary
Searching for warblers in the woods is a bit like mining for gems. During most seasons, picking a single mandarin garnet (American Redstart) or lapis lazuli (Blue-winged Warblers) from its verdant backdrop is enough to call it a good day. But imagine stepping into a wooded area where gems of every color—gold, citrine, jasper, hematite, idocrase—sparkle from all directions.
Walking the Magee Marsh boardwalk on the western shore of Lake Erie during the peak of warbler migration is like this. Migrant flocks of warblers—up to 37 different species—arrive here in waves; even moderate effort can produce well over twenty species in a few hours. Add to that a feast of other migrants—thrushes, sparrows, grosbeaks, kinglets—and you have the makings of a migrant mecca.
I was lucky enough to experience this first-hand during The Biggest Week in American Birding. I can honestly say this area provides a remarkable window for warbler watching. Here, you are afforded close-up views of dozens of species, and can compare and contrast them in one sitting. Anyone serious about improving their warbler identification skills should flock here, or find a similar area closer to home.
Though most birds use the marsh as a migratory stopover, some stay to breed, such as the Prothonotary Warbler in the photo above (also known as the Golden Swamp Warbler). Prothonotary Warblers are normally associated with wooded swamps in the southern United States, but find suitable breeding habitats within Ohio along wooded margins of reservoirs, large rivers, quiet backwaters, and ponds.
The grey back and beady black eyes of this male did nothing to tame its golden yellow head and belly. He was positively scintillant in the sun, and put on a sensational show just a few feet from the boardwalk where he and his mate were constructing a nest in the cavity of a dead tree.
As the female ducked into the cavity to arrange nesting material, the male dashed about in reproductive fervor, wildly claiming his territory with a loud and full-bodied tweet tweet tweet tweet.
The male gleaned ravenously as he circled from perch to perch, trapping spider webs around his head and skirting clashes with a disgruntled House Wren protesting the warbler’s choice of real estate.
At one point, the Prothonotary landed on the edge of his nest cavity and dipped his head inside to examine his lady’s progress. He then rose up, offered his most handsome profile, and cocked his head back in full song, as if to trumpet his good fortune.