I had to let the birds come to me during this year’s spring bird migration. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I only occasionally ventured out on short excursions that often included a grocery pick up after a brief search for migrating birds.
So, I decided to look back in my photo files for a bird that I had never shared before. This Prothonotary Warbler caught my attention and sent me back to when and where I had photographed it. It was a cool, damp day at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area along Lake Erie’s shore in northwest Ohio. The boardwalk was crowded with other birders of all ages from around the world. The cameras clicked away when this bright yellow fellow appeared. Unfortunately, Magee Marsh is closed this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prothonotary Warblers are only one of two warbler species that nest in tree cavities. They prefer marshy thickets as their habitats. They are named for Roman Catholic papal clerks known as prothonotaries who wear bright yellow robes.
May is for the birds. That’s good news for those of us who live in northern Ohio.
Year in and year out, May tends to be a very pleasant month here. The days grow longer and warmer.
Garden flowers splash welcomed colors against neatly trimmed, emerald lawns. Rainbows of wildflowers carpet forest floors, hiding the decaying leaf litter for six months. Mushrooms and May apples join them.
But what broadens the smiles in many folks from ages four to 94 are the returning birds. Not that people have been disappointed with the aviary species that frequented their backyard feeders in the dormant months.
The colorful songbirds, all decked out in their mating wardrobes, radiate new life into their human audiences. I’m certain the birds are unaware.
You don’t even have to be a serious birder to know that feeling. When the first Baltimore Oriole flashes its black and orange and whistles its distinctive call, it’s officially May.
Out come the store-bought and homemade feeders full of grape jelly. Stand back and let the gorging begin.
This year the birds seemed simply to fall out of the sky. Person after person reported the first of the year Baltimore Oriole, Orchard Oriole, and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
It’s amazing how those little hummers remember where the previous year’s feeders hung. If they beat you to the punch, they’re hovering outside your kitchen window waiting for lunch or supper, depending on when their flight landed in your yard.
This year I beat them to it. I had the feeder cleaned and filled with fresh sugar water long before April melded into May. But the birds got the last laugh. The first bird on the hummingbird feeder was a male Baltimore Oriole. Yes, they like a sweet sip now and then, too.
So, out went the oriole feeder. I hardly had stepped away when a male Baltimore Oriole swooped in for his feast. A male Orchard Oriole, a bird that I had never seen feed at the grape jelly station before, soon followed.
Friends near and far reported orioles galore. Their joy mimicked that of the infectious calls of the birds themselves.
Then came another wave of exuberance. Folks from all around called, emailed, and showed me photos of a bird they had seldom had at their feeders before. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks held their own fallout party. Some people reported eight or 10 at a time feeding. Not only are these handsome birds fun to watch, but their song also matches their beauty.
Of course, a few rare birds pass through on their way further north for the summer. American White Pelicans and stately Black-necked Stilts made appearances to the area.
But this time of year, it’s the colorful warblers that serious birders covet. Scores of birders from around the world converge on the Lake Erie shoreline to watch and listen for this annual splendor. They are seldom disappointed.
The Biggest Week in American Birding is held annually from early to mid-May in northwest Ohio’s Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. Scores of migrating birds, warblers, shorebirds, and birds of prey among them, rest and forage in the adjoining marshes, wetlands, and woodlots before heading over the lake.
Even if you can’t make it there, the birds may still come to you. The key is to be on the watch.
You never know what bright and cheery surprise may come your way in May. But look quick, because just like May, some of them might be gone in a vivid flash.