Thursday, June 14, 2012

Thinking of Bobolinking

There were lots of yellow birds and blue birds, brown birds and clown birds in Pennsylvania. It was a great trip and, all tallies in, I saw twenty-two new bird species. It is difficult to pick one bird-related highpoint from Maria's and my trip to the northeast, but few birds provided as satisfying a sighting as the mythical Bobolinks.

An enigmatic, backwards-seeming creature, the Bobolink was only confirmed to exist a few years ago. Until recently, most people reporting these birds were dismissed as madmen, hoaxsters, or visually impaired. Even when photographs and recordings of these birds started to surface, they were dismissed as grainy shots of leucistic, balding Red-winged Blackbirds:

But birders are a determined people. Despite forcible government suppression and a media black-out (notice how there hasn't been a single mainstream news story about this species!) they kept hope alive. When a Bobolink finally crashed into one of the White House windows, the bird's existence could be publicly denied no more.

But why? Why was there such resistance to confirming this species? As it turns out, Bobolinks aren't all that uncommon or hard to find. They can be found happily bobolinking in fields and flatlands throughout much of the eastern United States at points throughout the spring and summer.

 Rural Pennsylvania is not exactly off-the-map

Perhaps it's because the Bobolink is such a dumbfounding creature. There is something inexplicably backwards about the male Bobolinks. Their whole front is black. Is there any other bird like that, that isn't also entirely black? And what's with these weird haircuts, all the blond in the back? These may seem like trivial reasons to deny the legitimate existence of a species, but hey the only reason scientists won't recognize Bigfoot is because he doesn't wear shoes.

I've read that the reversed counter-shading on Bobolinks (normal counter-shading means birds tend to be dark on their backs and paler on their fronts) helps the males stand out in their grassy habitats, in essence helping the females find them. 

It's possible that my whole anecdote is erroneous, but whatever the true case may be with the Bobolink, they're established now (though they are, unfortunately, declining in some areas). I found about a dozen of these interesting birds at a Bobolink meet n' greet hosted at Stroud Preserve in West Chester, PA. It seemed like the first time our socializing for some of the males, and they were too busy with their nervous eating to work up the guts and actually talk to any of the shy females. 

A real charmer, isn't he?

Then again, some of the females seemed preoccupied with the vittles too. It is ostensibly possible that the large gawking biped made them uncomfortable, but I was wearing a tuxedo and I had shaved the back of my head, so I should've blended right in...

Like so many proms and socials, this one may have been a let down for the Bobolinks. I'm sure they've since hit it off, and I can say I certainly left the first get-together very happy.

Bobolinks are great migrators, moving between Brazil and the the American northeast every year. This year I migrated to meet them too. These curious critters provided one of the birding highlights of the 2012 year!