Thursday, May 7, 2009

The magic of bobolinks

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:

(For full effect, click to enlarge)

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.


denapple said...

Too Cool! How did you get several movie scenes into one file?

KatDoc said...

Used the "edit movie" feature in my Canon software. Just kept adding clips and it put them all together, somehow. I don't understand it.

Right now, I'm trying to make a slide show from my Flickr account, and it is not working. I'm technologically impaired.


Bird Girl said...

Hi Kathi! Oh yes - magical indeed! The entire festival was magic for me - tired as I was dragging my butt out of bed at 5:00 AM each morning! It was so much fun to meet you and the rest for the New River flock!I loved hearing these bobolinks as much as I did seeing them!

Beth said...

I love me some bobolinks! Someone on our trip said they look like they have Billy Idol hair. I think that is a perfect description. But their song is what blew me away.


Mary said...

I'm glad to see I'm not the only one with little bobolink specks in my photos. Hmmmmpf.

Great video, Kathi! I could hear the little R2D2 sounds perfectly!


Kathleen said...

Cool. I'll have to do this trip next year. I want to do ALL the trips!

Julie Zickefoose said...

Sweetness. Shortwave bird radio.

Lisa said...

Yikes! Y'all don't know this, but it's FREAKY how much KatDoc and I sound alike. I could have sworn that was me narrating.

Kathiesbirds said...

Katdoc, how'd you do that? I had no idea you were filming. You cpatured the sound! How amazing! I will have to visit here again and again because these moments in the field went by too fast for me!

KatDoc said...


I did the little movie with my point-and-shoot Canon. I wasn't sure if I could capture the sound, but it came out OK. Wasn't that an amazing experience?