Maybe it's a coincidence, but just as their baseball namesakes have come north to play the Mets and Yankees, Baltimore Orioles -- the winged ones -- have made their way to New Jersey.
It's not entirely unusual - I generally see my first Baltimore Oriole of the year sometime in late April or early May. What's really getting me this year is the sheer numbers of them being reported in different areas around the state. I saw my first pair at the Deserted Village in Union County's Watchung Reservation over the weekend, typically the place where I find them for the year.
I wasn't quite prepared for my next run in with a member of the species. My local neighborhood park -- a little common space in the midst of long-developed suburbia -- is home to an absurdly loyal series of Black-crowned Night Herons that has shown up every year, along with the usual small park coterie of sparrows, geese and Mourning Doves. Kingbirds and American Goldfinches will arrive from time to time, but Orioles? Never.
Until the other day. Just about the time their human counterparts were probably starting batting practice at Citi Field, I heard a very fluid yet unfamiliar song as I was walking through the park. Who could it be? Fortunately I had my binoculars with me, making it substantially easier to scan the upper reaches of a large sycamore for whoever was vocalizing.
And then... I spotted a bit of bright orange. Preferring the high perches as they do, Orioles, in my experience, at least, are far easier to identify from their color than from the black-and-white patterning of their wings or the darkness of their heads. That hue and the uniformity across the underside of the bird made the bird unmistakably a Baltimore Oriole. He hopped along a bit and gave me confirmation with a turn of his body.
As I watched, I could see the bird singing his heart out. When he stopped, another Oriole within earshot began his vocalization. Could there be two in the neighborhood? And even more important, would they both find mates and build nests here?
I haven't heard them since that evening, but I did find another in a park just a few miles away. Will he find a friend and make his summer home where I can visit easily? Will they raise offspring that will return next year and thrive as well? I can only hope they have better luck than the baseball team did with the Mets this week.