Saturday, May 21, 2005

Remember the Prothonotary

As the migration begins to wind down, many birders still consider one of the high points the Prothonotary Warbler . It was first seen in Central Park on April 14 and stayed for more than 10 days days. In regard to this beautiful creature, Stephen H. Watson, the California correspondent known to readers of this website as the man who put up the nest box for a pair of Kestrels named Lily and Dash, recently wrote:


Deborah and I were enjoying your website and the great photos, and I mentioned the Prothonotary Warbler. "The what warbler?" We went to Birds of North America Online at Cornell's Ornithology Lab ...(TONS of info there on all North American species...highly recommend getting an account) and pulled up the species account.

"One of the most striking wood-warblers of North America, the Prothonotary Warbler intrigues and delights those who visit its swampy world. The only mem-ber of the genus Protonotaria, the species was named for its plumage, which resembles the bright yellow robes of papal clerks (prothonotaries) in the Roman Catholic church. This warbler also holds a place in recent U.S. history by being partly responsible for the conviction of alleged spy Alger Hiss and the corresponding political rise of Richard Nixon.

Although Hiss repeatedly denied ever knowing Whittaker Chambers, the ex- communist who accused him of espionage, Chambers had testified that the men were friends. To verify this, Chambers admitted knowledge about many personal issues, including that Hiss was an amateur ornithologist who had been excited at seeing a Prothonotary Warbler along the Potomac River. When asked later, Hiss independently admitted that he had seen the warbler along the river. As a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee investigating the Hiss allegations, freshman congressman Richard Nixon played a prominent role in proving that the two men knew each other and that Hiss had perjured himself."

Quite a big part of history for such a little bird!

Thought you'd enjoy the story if you hadn't heard it already...