The weekly report from the world’s birdwatching capital… by Seymore Thanu
“Ahhhhh!” I said, which was the audible expression of the visceral pleasure I was experiencing. A pleasure directly related, as you might suspect, to the aforementioned “chap chap.” “Chap chap,” for those of you not in the know, is a common vocalization of the Sedge Wren.
And a Sedge Wren, for those of you even less in the know, is a little, bitty, buff-and-taffy-colored mote of energy wrapped first in feathers and then in dense grass, reeds or (as the name implies) sedge. There are several wren species found in New Jersey. Among them the Carolina Wren, House Wren, Marsh Wren, Winter Wren…
And the Sedge Wren. The thing about the Sedge Wren is that it is much less common than those other wrens. Generally harder to find. Harder to see. In fact, wrens as a rule are drab and skulking and avoid the spotlight. If many species didn’t sing lustily, they would go wholly overlooked.
An exception to this auditory splendor is the Sedge Wren. Their bare-bones song sounds like a cricket with a stutter.
And my point is? I just love Sedge Wrens. Why? Because they are just great little birds who never get a fair shake. In the eyes of most people, even birders, Sedge Wrens just don’t have the pizazz that propels birds to the top of the popularity charts.
Nobody will ever put a Sedge Wren on a flag or use it as the centerpiece of the national emblem – with arrows in one talon; an olive branch in the other.
Nobody will ever write an Ode to a Sedge Wren. Nobody will ever note (or care) whether a Sedge Wren utters, or does not utter, the fateful pronouncement “nevermore.”
Except in the case of a Sedge Wren, it would come out “Never, never, never, never moremoremoremoremoremoremore.”
Nobody will ever bake four and twenty Sedge Wrens in a pie. Fact is, four and twenty Sedge Wrens would hardly make enough filling for a mid-sized Pop-Tart.
And almost nobody (except for a fairly serious and accomplished birder) would even care to see a Sedge Wren. The reason they want to see one is because they’ve already seen the birds that sit on flags, birds that rate an ode or two, birds that visit terminally depressed American writers, birds that make good pie filling… or oven stuffing roasters… or hot sauce swizzle sticks over Monday Night Football.
Sedge Wrens are just plain not-everyday birds. Not here. Not without a measure of luck or skill. Once birders see all the everyday birds, they start anticipating the less-than-everyday birds.
Like the Sedge Wren.
They start ascribing added value to birds whose appeal harks to a whisper, not a shout, and whose winsome qualities take effort to appreciate.
So there I was. Walking along. Paying scant attention to the Bald Eagles flying around. The Great Horned Owls sitting out. The Snow Geese and Black Ducks flying all over and the dozen or so other birds that I might have studied and appreciated were it not for the fact that a little bird, tucked in the grass next to the road went “chap chap.”
It takes time. Not unlike learning to distinguish the qualities of a fine port which, like the Sedge Wren, is something served later and afterwards. Sipped and savored.
If you are interested in birds, including Sedge Wrens, consider a visit to the Cape May Bird Observatory. The CMBO’s Northwood Center at 701 East Lake Drive overlooking lovely Lake Lily in Cape May Point, is THE information spot for anything to do with nature. The center is open from 9:30am–4:30pm except Tuesdays, December through February. Ask any of our staff – they are always glad to help with anything you need. Check out the schedule of daily walks, pick up a free birding map and checklist and while you are there, don’t forget the newest books (including Pete Dunne’s newest Bayshore Summer – and Birds of Cape May – a beautiful array of photos just released by Kevin Karlson). Pick up a bargain from the vintage books section, look at some of the wonderful Charley Harper merchandise, binoculars and spotting scopes. Have a nature enthusiast on your gift list but are clueless what they want or need? Pick up a gift card, redeemable at any of our New Jersey Audubon Centers throughout the state. And if you aren’t fortunate enough to be in the area, visit us online at 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 Chief Communications Officer for New Jersey Audubon. Author of several books on and about nature (available at the CMBO) he has written for virtually every birding publication and for The New York Times.