Prothonotary Warbler and Richard Nixon

Today Ingrid and I saw a Prothonotary Warbler at Hinckley Park in South Portland . . . the third time in the last four years this chunky yellow bird has shown up near the ponds at this perennial birding hotspot.  The name Prothonotary refers to the yellow robes worn by papal clerks (or prothonotaries).

Prothonotary Warblers are generally found in the swamps of the American south and rarely north of New Jersey.   Why one repeatedly shows up at a dog walking park outside Maine’s largest city is a mystery.

Being a bit of a nerd, I love the fact that the Prothonotary Warbler helped make Richard Nixon president of the United States.

Alger Hiss

It all started in the late 1940s when Alger Hiss, a prominent government official was accused of spying for the Soviets.  Hiss was a Harvard Law School graduate who clerked for the US Supreme Court Clerk, was a prominent official in the FDR administration and even helped write the United Nations Charter.  Hiss was also an avid bird watcher.

In 1948, Whittaker Chambers (no relation), a former Communist Party member testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee about Hiss’s Communist pursuits.  A junior congressman from California named Richard Nixon led the investigation against Hiss.

Whitaker Chambers

Hiss claimed he had never met Chambers, while the later claimed they were fellow travelers for the Communist party.

What turned things against Hiss was secret testimony by Chambers where he related that Hiss had bragged about finding a Prothonotary Warbler along the Potomac River.

At a later time, the Committee asked Hiss about his bird watching avocation . . . and Alger related the same story about the Prothonotary Warbler.

At that point, the committee became convinced that Hiss was lying.

The Alger Hiss investigation made Nixon a household name, which led to the US Senate, the Vice-Presidency and eventually the Presidency.

All because of this damn bird!!!!

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