Prothonotary Warbler

Cameron Cox

bigstock-The bright yellow of this yello

My Spark Bird story:

The trip that was destined to become my first birding trip didn’t start out as a birding trip at all. My best friend and I were dropped off to spend three hours hiking in Pinnacle Mountain State Park in central Arkansas. He was already an avid birder and I occasionally teased him about his hobby. We weren’t birding though, no, we were climbing a mountain. We were kids, officially teenagers for just a few days, enjoying some first tastes of unsupervised freedom.

After summiting the mountain and walking back down, we were waiting for the prearranged pickup and decided to walk a short trail that skirted a Bald Cypress-lined backwater of the Arkansas River. Halfway along the trail, at the sudden outbreak of a SWEET-SWEET-SWEET sound nearby, my friend froze and said excitedly, “That’s a Prothonotary Warbler!” A what? My friend quickly explained that there was some bright yellow bird singing right in front of us and then demanded, “Couldn’t I see it?” I couldn’t. I couldn’t, even as the sound rang out again straight ahead and right in front of us. I couldn’t as my friend explained exactly which tree and which branch I was supposed to be looking at. I couldn’t as the sound rang out several more times, as my friend checked the old, rocker-focused binoculars I had borrowed for the hike. Then, accompanied by a sharp intake of breath, I did see it! I simultaneously couldn’t believe anything could be that YELLOW, that anything that yellow could blend in with anything other than a banana stand, or that I had struggled so much to see it. I was entranced.

The entrancement led to stuffing every moment of free time in the coming summer with looking at birds, reading about birds, or thinking about birds. It led to spending my twenties in a crappy car filled with bird books and expensive optics traveling the United States as a professional bird bum, latching myself onto whatever research job would harness my desire to watch birds and pay me enough that I could almost survive. To sleeping on hundreds picnic tables, to more encounters with the U.S. Border Patrol than I can count, to watching wild horses from a ridge in Colorado, to counting rivers of migrating raptors surrounded by sloths and Capuchin Monkeys in Panama. It led to an obsession, and opened a gateway to the natural world that has been my joy ever since.