Two Warblers

Donald Shephard

There are two rare and elusive warblers which inhabit a knoll north of the village of Mendocino and south of Fort Bragg. They are the Caspar Knoll Whistler Warbler and the Caspar Knoll Wobbler Warbler. These birds may or may not be of the same species because a complete description of each of them is lacking. While we have individual descriptions of all parts of the avian body, enough to make 1.36 complete birds in fact, we cannot be sure that any given part belongs to a whistler warbler or a wobbler warbler.

Why is that? You may well ask. Some authorities are referred to in birding circles as “lumpers” and others are called “splitters”. Lumpers lump the two into one species. Some lumpers make the whistler warbler a subspecies of the wobbler warbler while others make the wobbler warbler a subspecies of the whistler warbler. Splitters, on the other hand, separate these birds into two species while not necessarily agreeing on the precise nature of either. For example, there is a long-running discussion about polygyny, the alleged habit of the whistler warbler males taking more than one mate at a time. The question in dispute is this: “Who is whistler’s mother?” It is my opinion that it is imprudent to question anyone’s parentage. One never knows what evil lurks down that path of enquiry.

Whistler warblers and wobbler warblers live on an exposed knoll where wind blows constantly off the Pacific. All the vegetation on the knoll leans eastwards and has developed horizontal foliage. This includes the cotoneasters, wax myrtles, and cypress trees and even the grasses tend to have wind-blown horizontal leaves. Therefore, any glimpse of the furtive and shy whistler warbler or the secretive and sneaky wobbler warbler is crossed by horizontal leaves and leaf shadows obscuring parts of their bodies. A further difficulty arises when you realize whistler warblers and wobbler warblers have evolved plumage with horizontal stripes like veritable jailbirds. These stripes seem to alternate between dark green and light green, which lumpers refer to as olive drab and lime; and dark brown and light brown, which splitters call sable and tan.

Well, you may ask testily, what makes you so sure they are birds? We have feathers! Now, it is true that the only feathers collected to date were gathered by Maginot Mangletwine the premier birder on the coast. Everyone knows the story of her given name. Maginot was not named for her inherently weak defenses against German men as has been claimed elsewhere. Rather she was named after her father’s response to her mother’s question; “I’m expecting George. I don’t imagine you want to get married?” “ ’Magin’ not” he replied and the name stuck. Nevertheless, Maginot Mangletwine was our premier birder until her untimely death at age ninety eight.

Maginot Mangletwine collected the warbler feathers while she was creating her performance art piece entitled “Slat Painting with a High Pressure Sprayer on Caspar Knoll on a Windy Day”. Locals have always called the “windy day” part of that title a redundancy. This piece, or rather the resulting painted slats, may be purchased on eBay where the opening bid is set at $25,000 (shipping and handling to be arranged by the purchaser). We feel that this is an excellent price considering the costs of removing subcutaneous paint from the artist and most of the denizens of Caspar Knoll.

Perhaps I should take a moment to explain here that Maginot was assisted in her artistic endeavors by her beloved partner Martinet Mangletwine, a local carpenter noted for his chiseling skills. Martinet supplemented his meager earnings, as so many do here on the coast, with a second vocation. He ran a very successful whiskey still in his outhouse. He allowed Maginot to use the compressor that pushed the distilled product from the underground chamber of its birth to a tank secreted behind the outhouse. The compressor was a recycling marvel. It was unfortunate that it lacked a safety valve for when Maginot connected it to her sprayer it unleashed 500 pounds per square inch and blasted chartreuse paint (Pantone 584) over the entire knoll and most of its occupants. It was this same dysfunctional compressor, having been replaced in the outhouse, which led to her untimely death when it exploded beneath her on a particularly windy Sunday last march. I say Maginot’s death was untimely because we now have no local expert of her caliber to identify the whistler warbler and the wobbler warbler.

I have mentioned the costs of cleaning subcutaneous paint from our inhabitants. Prudence tells me we should not mention the U.S. EPA required costs of environmental cleanup of Caspar Knoll, which is currently chartreuse in color (Pantone 584 to be precise). It will probably remain Pantone 584 until the superfund monies arrive.

Since Prudence tells me not to mention that subject, I shall resist but I will add that Prudence and I have both managed to rid our bodies of Pantone 584 by the vigorous use of Martinet’s whiskey and hazelnut twig switches in a sauna heated to 110 degrees. All the inhabitants of Caspar Knoll, with the exception of the two splitters, who are teetotalers and Presbyterian, agree that Martinet’s whiskey for obvious reasons has not been quite the same since Maginot died.

Now, I must get back to the warblers. The question of color is moot now that both species are chartreuse. But, since we have brought up the delicate subject of reproduction, I shall describe what is known of the mysterious breeding cycle of the whistler warbler and the wobbler warbler. These birds are said by some authorities to be life-time monogamists. These authorities are Catholics and other birders consider this wishful thinking. The alternative lifestyle may well be polyandry, polygyny or the rarer polygynandry.

My close friends, Leslie Goodfellow and Leslie Feelgood, support the polyandry theory while other colleagues such as Robin Cakeandale and Robin Banks favor the polygyny position. I have proof positive that Marginot Mangletwine was a fully paid up member of the polygynandry club. The members of the Church of Holy-Smoke-What-Was-That consider all this heretical thinking.

You will be relieved to hear that there can be little controversy over the food of the whistler warbler and the wobbler warbler since whatever they eat must be found within the limited environment of Caspar Knoll. First of all, let me say unequivocally that whatever they eat is chartreuse in color. Secondly, we can be reasonably sure that it is of either the animal or plant kingdom with the occasional mineral supplement. We have never seen either species tackle Martinet’s famous product which indicates either a high degree of intelligence or that they are Presbyterian.

We are quite sure that one or other of the species supplemented their diet with at least one mineral because after the explosion Maginot Mangletwine’s glass eye was missing. Everyone who knew Maginot in other than the Biblical sense, of course, was aware that she wore a glass right eye in her left eye socket. Whether this was out of perversion or penury we shall never know. Those of us who remember Miss Mangletwine as a macramé artist of note, realize that penury is the more likely explanation.

After the entire population of Caspar Knoll and surrounds trampled over the area searching for Marginot’s glass eye, it is doubtful that any eggs will ever be found. We are quite confident, however, that if they should be found, they will be chartreuse.

As to the distasteful subject, for some, of the rearing of young, we enter uncharted seas except to the extent that there is controversy, dispute, argument and rebuttal which are well charted seas indeed. Some suggest that the rarity of these birds is the result of the males being the sole nurturing parent. It is clearly a case of anthropomorphizing. There is a small but viciously tenacious sect which believes in it. The lumpers who are non-Lutheran in behavior, believe that the female is the sole supporter of the young. My own observations tentatively suggest that neither male nor female of either species rear their young. It may be that the precocial young agree with my teenagers who say, “We don’t need no stinking support!” as they raid my fridge. Yes, Prudence, I will get back to the birds.

Four years ago last May, as I began this article for the Caspar Knoll Birders Newsletter, so ably edited by Prudence Gotobed, Maginot petitioned the U.S. EPA for endangered species listing for both the Caspar Knoll Whistler Warbler and the Caspar Knoll Wobbler Warbler. After his partner’s demise, Martinet took up the challenge. In 2004, having been awarded endangered species status, we unfortunately had to petition the American Ornithologist’s Union for extinct status which they denied in a terse missive stating that neither species could be granted extinct status since there was insufficient evidence of their existence. I wonder what Maginot Mangletwine thinks about that in her new place among the angels. Believe it or not, the Caspar Knoll Whistler Warbler and the Caspar Knoll Wobbler Warbler are non-existent endangered species which are not extinct.

Back to ... College of the Redwoods Creative Writing Class Assignments | Home page