Prothonotary Warbler

Photo: Inge Curtis

The warblers are coming! We don’t notice them until they land in the yard because they mostly fly through the night when it is cooler and safer from predators. This male Prothonotary Warbler is a little gem who declares his territory with repeated tsweets from perches close to a stream or standing water. Like many other birds, this species is named for its appearance. The word ‘prothonotary’ means first notary in Greek, originating in Roman Byzantium and adopted for Catholic prelates in the Middle Ages. Still used as a title for law clerks and officials, none today wear the gorgeous yellow apparel of ancient office holders.

As a cavity nester, the pair in Inge’s garden sets up home in a nest box with a snake guard. So closely does she observe them that she believes the same pair return annually. And so familiar are they with her home that one slipped inside her house to sing for her from the top of a table lamp. Had she not grabbed a camera in time to record it no one would have believed the story!

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret
Photo: Inge Curtis

We start this series of Birds of the Week with a species of sublime beauty and a harrowing history of persecution. The Snowy Egret is a mid-sized heron with plumage so brilliant it looks bleached except for black legs and bright yellow feet. A dagger-like bill extracts food hiding in mudflats where it is often a solitary feeder and occasionally seen in flocks up and down the East Coast or the West Coast through Mexico where this individual was spotted.

You almost hear Tchaikovsky playing when you watch an egret dancing along the shoreline, elegant as a ballerina. Over a century ago this species, and other herons and ibises, were decimated by a millinery trade making elaborate feather head-dresses. But hats off to other women who were appalled at the slaughter and campaigned to abolish the fashion. They helped to build the National Audubon Society and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The Snowy Egret is an icon in bird conservation.