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  • Writer's pictureJeff Matthews

Weekend Edition: Where Would They Go?

They’re back. “They” are a pair of Yellow Warblers–small, quick, pretty birds that winter south of Mexico and return, each May, to a little patch of earth located in Southeastern Rhode Island, to breed. The male, a deep yellow infused with red streaks on his breast, is the most visible–establishing the territory, helping build the nest, and feeding the nesting female. The female is a duller yellow-green, and not very active once the nest is built. The patch of earth this pair inhabits each summer is in fact a mere quarter of an acre of bayberry, rugosa and beach plum that sits next to our house, in a quiet neighborhood on a sandy little spit of land located about 20 miles across Block Island Sound as the warbler flies from Sagaponack and the investment banker-laden traffic jams on Route 27 in Eastern Long Island. Each year this quarter acre of non-descript scrub land gets more precious, as the last remaining open lots of land in our area get bid up and bulldozed flat, to make way for yet another three-story Sagaponack-style McMansion with fake stone foundations and enough wood shingling to clear an Amazon rain forest. Our quiet little area gets less and less quiet each summer. It would be easy enough–and profitable enough–to auction off a quarter acre of still-virgin land 75 yards from the water. It needs no advertising: cars slow down on the way to beach as the drivers look at the arrowwood and rugosa and poison ivy and bayberry, wondering. People around here ask me all the time what my plans are. My plans are to keep it the way it is.

This year, for the first time, I saw the pair of warblers flying together. Usually I see only the male, alone–singing from a branch or feeding on insects. Some days in the hottest afternoons of July he comes out when I’m watering the raspberry canes and grape vines and blueberry bushes, and takes a shower, flitting in and out of the spray. Yesterday, however, I saw both the male and female: they took off out of the bayberry and flew an undulating path across our neighbor’s back yard, abruptly diving into a stand of rugosas about fifty yards away. Probably the weather has been so cold and the spring so late that they had not started their nest. It’s quite something to think of these two tiny feathered creatures–after spending all winter somewhere in Bolivia or Brazil or Peru–making their way over Mexico and Florida, all the way back to this little quarter acre of land to nest.

So, the way I see things, it’s not my quarter of an acre, it belongs to the yellow warblers right now, and others that will join them. Soon I expect to see the Common Yellowthroat–another warbler, only the male has a kind of black face mask, which makes the throat look especially yellow–preparing a nest in the rugosas. And there’s a robin that has his eyes on an arrowwood bush for a nest, while the cardinals are stripping the thin, flexible bark from the grape vines for their nest in a tree across the road. Before summer ends, the goldfinches will feed on the thistle and the swallows will bulk up on the waxy bayberries before heading south. And the quarter acre will be mine again. That’s when I’ll start clearing out the bittersweet and other invasive vines that always threaten to overwhelm the food producing plants and the good nesting bushes that feed and nurture these little guys. So that this little quarter-acre will be ready for next spring, when they come back.

Jeff Matthews I Am Not Making This Up

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