Prothonotary Warbler - GHBurns

Prothonotary Warbler in the Atchafalaya

Matthew 6:26

"Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?"


Bluebonnet Swamp in Baton Rouge Louisiana, is a small, beautiful cypress and tupelo swamp in the eastern area of the city. Birds of all kinds migrate in and out through, the various seasons.  Birdwatchers, scores of school children, and anyone interested in swamp life, frequently are seen at the swamp. Ornithologist occasionally "net" birds to tag them, either with a band and sometimes place a "geolocator" on them.   In the springtime of 2014, a prothonotary warbler was  tagged with one of these latter devices.  One year later, they were again netting birds and snagged that same prothonotary warbler.  The information in the geolocator was a somewhat surprising revelation.  That relatively small warbler had just returned from an extended flight of some seven thousand miles.  On leaving Bluebonnet Swamp this prothonotary warbler flew to Central America, then to Cuba, then on to South America, then to Central America again, and a final leg  back to Bluebonnet Swamp.  In the process of their migration,  prothonotary warblers mate,  have their young, feed on local insects and eventually leave on another extended flight before returning to North America. Some come to our own city of Baton Rouge where they can be seen passing through Bluebonnet Swamp.  Many go to Atchafalaya Swamp where, not long ago, I was in a bateau with C C Lockwood,  photographing a prothonotary warbler, as we watched it build a nest in a cypress stump.   As our camera shutters clicked, C C Lockwood commented, "it is estimated that there is one prothonotary warbler for every acre in the Atchafalaya Swamp." The Atchafalaya Swamp  covers approximately 1.4million acres.  This would mean that there are at the very least more than two million of these warblers in Louisiana.  Their numbers in Louisiana are probably higher than the Atchafalaya acreage, since their habitat includes other swampy areas where the brilliant yellow breasted bird is found.  I am not sure what purpose the prothonotary warbler fills in global ecology, but am confident that it has a purpose larger than its own existence. Perhaps one of those is to consume millions of insects and thereby save humans from infestations of some kind.   

Jesus Christ was a great observer of nature.  There are many references in the New Testament where He is quoted as observing nature and wildlife, including birds.  Since there was not any kind of amplified music or mechanized sound in Our Lord's time, one can imagine that the sounds of nature, especially birds, were noticed by everyone. Jesus is quoted above in saying that humans are worth more than birds.  Just what are we worth?  What is our purpose?  If birds can influence our lives, then certainly  each of us has the ability to do the same and perhaps, in a much more powerful way.  If any individual  were to be outfitted with a "geolocator" it would show how mobile humans are, and how each of us travel all over the areas in which we live; state, country and world.  This brings us into contact with many individuals whose lives we may or may not affect.    We may also have some kind of "effect" on the people we see, while sometimes not  being aware of what that effect  might be.  Even if we live a somewhat quiet, reclusive life, we may still have an impact on others.     Has not this been true for many contemplatives, and other notable individuals in our world, both in the present and in the past?   Nonetheless, there are some who  find it hard to believe that they can have an ability to influence others, especially to do good. This may be a result of having a difficulty in believing that there is a God who loves us, is aware of our existence, and that He desires that each of us  become a positive influence in the world.  In his book, "The God Who Won't Let Go," Fr. Peter van Breemen, S,J, wonderfully discusses this topic.  He addresses the fact that this is especially true for individuals who have experienced any kind of brokenness or sin in their lives. These individuals find it difficult to believe that God can operate through their lives. Fr. Van Breemen explains how our lives are not just about our own family, school, state, country or ourselves. We are called to be generous and dedicated to the good of all we meet. Isn't this what God has done for us?

I have been asked what do I do when I am out in nature enjoying photography?  My response is that there is always a conversation going on, whether I am alone or with someone else, inspired by beautiful aviary apparitions experienced while viewing how God may possibly be unveiled in the beauties of nature.  In the coming weeks and months, my photo bank will get a thorough examination as I attempt to remember what was unveiled when I enjoyed photography in Louisiana, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Mississippi, Florida. Perhaps you will also see how the sight of an image that is captured by the eye of the camera or by your own eye, can possibly be a divine apparition that has many layers of revelation for you too.