The New River Birding and Nature Festival is famous for many things - uncountable warblers and other returning neotropical migrants, top of the line trip leaders, the joy of making new friends and getting re-acquainted with old ones, rain - but the thing that always gets everybody talking is one simple hay field. Or maybe, a magical one.
At the top of a mountain in West Virginia, there is a rolling grassy field destined to be mowed and baled and sold as hay. The owner could make more money by harvesting his hay when it is at its peak, in the early flowering stage. This would yield a higher value per bale, but at the expense of the grassland birds who nest here, most notably, the Bobolinks. Sacrificing profit for nature, he opts to delaying mowing until the birds have raised their families. Graciously, he allows the New River birders to visit his field and admire his birds.
In the past, the bobolink field has been the first stop on the High Country tour, but on Thursday, the trip leaders decided to flip the order of things and visit the field last. I'm not sure which experience was better - listening to bobolinks singing in the misty fog of morning, or actually seeing the singers midafternoon.
If you see a bobolink from the front, you might not be too impressed. He just looks like another blackbird, half-hidden in the tall grass.
But, wait until he starts to turn. You might glimpse a flash of color from behind. Think of a bobolink as a guy with his tuxedo on backwards. The starched white shirt is in the rear, and all that faces you is the black of his wrong-way jacket.
If you see him on a wire, the effect is not too stunning, since he is hiding his best features.
From far away, it is hard to appreciate his beauty. His fluffy yellow head looks like another dandelion in the field.
However, if you are lucky enough to be able to get close, if you have a spotting scope or a big, big camera lens, you might get to see this:
Seeing bobolinks is only half the experience. Hearing them sing is the other half. The short (approximately two minute) video below only gives you a taste of our experiences at the Bobolink Field.