The Last Bobolink? — My own (NJ) Extinction Experience

Whatever happened to bobolinks?

Bobolink Autumn Olive Brenda Jones

Bobolink Autumn Olive Brenda Jones

Birders know.  Multiflora rose and other invasives invaded grasslands, soft silky sites required by these gold and white birds of consummate elegance.  Some places, such as the St. Michaels Farm Preserve (D&R Greenway-preserved) in Hopewell, and the Pole Farm near my new home in Lawrenceville, are managing for grassland birds, with success.  Bobolinks have been sited and photographed on the St. Michaels land this spring.  Bobolinks are expected at the Pole Farm.

Upper Burlington County holds what used to be Bobolink Central — Brightview Farm.  The owner has been legendary, even in such venerable birding tomes as Boyle on Birds, for haying late so bobolinks may safely nest.

One of my key birding buddies, Mary Wood, and I went to Brightview early today (Saturday, the last of May) to find the hordes of bobolinks, and clusters of grasshopper sparrows to which we had been treated in these sylvan agrarian lanes in other years.  We were counting on bluebirds zooming in and out of countless bluebird houses, and barn and tree swallows zipping around the farm’s various outbuildings.  We were hoping not only for the usual thoroughbred horses, but also foals.

Now, admittedly, I am madly reading The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert.  I had borrowed Linda Mead’s, D&R Greenway’s CEO, copy, read two chapters, and headed straight out to Barnes & Noble to buy two copies – one for myself and one for my great niece, a science graduate of fine writing ability herself — Catherine Weitzel, late of Kenyon College.  It was all I could do to put down that splendidly researched and written, urgent book and pick up my binoculars and leave with Mary.

So, extinction is ON MY MIND.  From the great auk to various planktons to vital, essential corals.

I thought I was going to Brightview to get away from extinction.

We were there more than two hours.  Yes, we found thoroughbred horses and two foals.  We drove up one lane and down another.  A tractor was behind us right off the bat, an impatient tractor, for whom we finally moved off the road so it could pass and what did it do but go into a field of tall soft silvery grey natural grasses.  And begin to mow.  And mow and mow and mow.

When we were leaving, striking out completely on grasshopper sparrows, finding a handful of swallows, not even a dozen bluebirds and the bluebird boxes were even coming apart somehow, and only having seen one male bobolink, and one (probable) female, he was still mowing.  The long green silk fell in endless rows.  On fields he’d attacked before our arrival, the long green silk had turned yellow/brown and stiff.

One bobolink.

Mary nearly broke my heart as she softly revealed, “I think I will not come here again.”

I answered, “It’s as though we left for a party and stumbled into a funeral.”

Mary replied, “I am glad the bobolinks aren’t going there any more, expecting to nest and raise young safely.”

But we’re NOT glad.

We’re heartbroken.

An enormous swath of what was once idyllic wild New Jersey is now no longer available to the wild creatures.