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prō-ˈthä-nə-ˌter-ē

I came home both exhilarated and somber. My sweet husband, Chris, met me in the kitchen.

“Whatcha been up to?” he chirped.

I looked him solemnly in the eyes, placed my hands on his shoulders and quietly replied, “Sweetheart. I’m sorry, but I’m in love with another man. He’s active, full of bubbling life and a beautiful singer.”

He regarded me blandly and asked, “Which one is it this time?”

A soulful, longing sigh from me. Again, the deep gaze into his eyes.

“The prothonotary warbler.”

“And…,” he prompts.

“Brilliant yellow head and belly, gray/blue wings, white undertail coverts and exactly this big,” I report, holding my two index fingers precisely 5 1/2 inches apart, to demonstrate the large, stoutness of my new-found love.

PRO 4

Chris rolls his eyes and quips, “Can we get dinner going now?”

In love? With a bird? Ridiculous, you say. Well, clearly you must not be a birder. For those of us who are thoroughly and completely enamored with any and all things avian, the sight of a new warbler to add to our life list is a big, honking deal.

Oh sure, I’ve seen the prothonotary in bird books and always hoped I’d see one at the top of some tree. But noooooo. My new amour was perched five feet from me completely oblivious to my heart beating out rapid little “You’re beautiful!” and “I love you!” messages.

The name “Prothonotary” originally referred to a group of official scribes in the Catholic Church who wore bright yellow hoods, as this bird appears to do.

The siting of this amazing new addition to my birding life list is Huntley Meadows Park. Huntley Meadows is a marshy oasis of serenity amidst the urban suburban sprawl of northern Virginia near Washington, D.C. It is the largest park managed by the Fairfax County Park Authority and comprises over 1,500 acres in the southern part of the county.

As you walk into the woods and onto the boardwalk that runs through the marsh, you truly can forget you live in a big city. The growl of traffic gets replaced by the myriad bird calls and toad songs of the marsh. Blue-gray gnatcatchers endlessly repeat their thin, twangy call notes from high in the trees.

Red-winged blackbirds noisily call for mates and show off the scarlet patches of their wings by flying to and fro. Tree and barn swallows burble happily as they swoop over the marsh, the sun glinting off their deep emerald blue and midnight blue wings. The dexterity of their flight must be the envy of every fighter pilot who sees them. Wood ducks, so beautifully decorated they seem unreal, glide secretively and silently amongst the cattails and rushes. The small but loud Common Yellowthroat lets loose with his “witchety, witchety, witchety!” call from the underbrush. Female Canada geese hunker down over their nests while their gander noisily scares away all threats (from other geese and from snapping turtles who try to eat the eggs).

And then there are the amphibians. The spring peeper frogs in early spring who chime their high-pitched, clarion call. The green frogs with their chuckling, thumping song. And, of course, the bullfrogs, who sit green and smiling in the marsh mud, booming out their sonorous groans.

Heaven indeed!  Going back this weekend to see whom I fall in love with next! Thank goodness I have a patient husband.

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