The weekly report from the world’s birdwatching capital… by Seymore Thanu
This is the time of the Yellow Bird. Sounds kind of Native American, doesn’t it? It is called the time of the Yellow Bird because early August is about the time that Yellow Warblers (which are small, yellow birds) migrate en masse through Cape May.
They rank among the earliest of the passerine migrants to pass.
Passerine is ornithology (bird) talk for birds that perch.
They are the vanguard, make that the shock troops, of fall passerine migration They are also pretty easy to see, particularly after a cold front passes through. In fact, stand in the parking lot of The Nature Conservancy’s preserve about half an hour after dawn and you’ll see lots of small yellow birds zipping through the sky.
You’ll hear them too. Sounds like they’re saying ziit.
Well, that’s what it sounds like to me. Other people have other interpretations, and better ears.
Now you might be wondering: why should this interest you? Put another way: why have you already dedicated thirty seconds of your life to this esoteric and largely unheralded bird.
A bird that doesn’t dive at 200 mph.
Doesn’t migrate in a 20,000 mile figure-eight pattern between the Arctic and Antarctic.
Doesn’t mass on beaches by the thousands, eating horseshoe crab eggs.
Doesn’t carry an olive branch in one foot and arrows in the other.
Isn’t emblazoned on the helmet of some football franchise.
And says ziit.
Well, that’s a very good question and one that begs a satisfactory answer; unless you fall into that band of the human spectrum that lives to embrace life and all its facets, wakes up every morning believing that marvels lie waiting to be discovered, thinks Cape May is just the coolest place precisely because Ma Nature is always knocking on the door and…
You like birds.
Alright then; here’s your answer. The reason Yellow Warblers should interest you is because they are handsome, animated, zippy little things that are a delight for your eyes and a thread in the tapestry of your life.
Did you know that some of these zippy little Yellow Warblers are coming all the way from the Arctic? Yep, these tiny, ten gram animals nest about as far north as willow thickets are found, and they even nest here in Cape May.
Yellow Warbler, it turns out, has one of the largest distributions of any North American breeding bird. Bigger than House Finch. Bigger than Song Sparrow.
How’s that for amazing?
And this little bitty warbler, a warbler so small that three of them could be sealed in an envelope and mailed for a first-class stamp, migrates all the way to South America.
More amazing still.
And (are you sitting down for this one?), this warbler exhibits more morphological variation than any other wood warbler.
Thought that would impress you. If you have a bridge party scheduled for this afternoon, please be sure to bring that up.
If you are interested in seeing your own Yellow Warbler, considering going out on a naturalist-led field trip (so you’re sure not to miss it). The Cape May Bird Observatory offers expertly-led bird walks every day but Sunday throughout August, and a couple of birding boat trips on Sundays and Mondays. Just stop over to the Cape May Bird Observatory, THE place for anything to do with nature, and pick up a copy of The Kestrel Express for our full schedule of walks and boat trips. The CMBO (609-884-2736) is located at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking lovely Lake Lily in Cape May Point and is open 9:30am to 4:30pm every day. Our staff and volunteers are always glad to help with anything you need – even things you didn’t know you needed yet. Check out the latest in books (including the newest Bayshore Summer by Pete Dunne – which if you bring with you on the Monday morning walk, you can get him to personalize), bird feeders, and some great new and fun merchandise – including our exclusive CMBO logo jewelry, clothing, totes, and more. Take a look at the sightings log or our website to check what’s being seen, scan the bookshelves, pick up a bargain from the vintage books section, look at some of the wonderful Charley Harper merchandise, or just browse. And if you aren’t fortunate enough to be in the area, visit us online www.BirdCapeMay.org – where birding Cape May is only a click away.
Seymore Thanu is none other than New Jersey’s own Pete Dunne, Director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and Vice President of Natural History for New Jersey Audubon Society. Author of several books on and about nature (available at the Cape May Bird Observatory), he has written for virtually every birding publication and for The New York Times.