After yesterday afternoon’s cold front, we thought we had it made this morning. The woods along the Delaware River would, we thought, be swarming with warblers and vireos and flycatchers and tanagers. All we needed to do, we thought, was get there.
“There” in this case is a very special place in the history of American ornithology.
Point Breeze was the country estate of Joseph Bonaparte, the elder brother of the first Napoleon and erstwhile king of Naples and of Spain. At the mouth of Crosswicks Creek in Bordentown, New Jersey, Point Breeze was also the home for some five years of Charles Lucian Bonaparte and his cousin-wife, Zénaïde, and it was here on the banks of the Delaware that the Prince of Musignano and Canino conducted much of the work that would lead Coues to call the 1820s “the Bonapartian Period” in American ornithology.
Bonaparte had better luck with the birds than we did. But still we enjoyed treading the same paths trod almost two hundred years ago by the man Coues styled “the princely person.”
Back in Bonaparte days, the marsh at the bottom of the hill was a lake, formed by damming Thornton Creek. The view down Crosswicks Creek to the Delaware is still impressive, and this would be a great place to simply set up and wait on a day when migrants really did decide to show up.
The house Joseph built above the lake for his daughter and son-in-law is long gone, replaced by tall beeches and tulip trees.
The tangled banks held chipping Northern Cardinals and mewling Gray Catbirds; on a warbler day, the edges could be lively.
The most evocative spot we discovered was this crumbling stretch of carriage road.
The only intact structure from Bonaparte’s day is the old Garden House, a modest building now overlooking lawns and a sparse orchard but once guarding the entrance to Joseph Bonaparte’s formal gardens.
This little house, too, has its place in ornithological history. You can read about that, and more about Charles Bonaparte and American ornithology, tomorrow at the newly remodeled ABA Blog. See you over there!