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Monday, January 7, 2019

Single Species Birding: The Wily, Elusive Snow Bunting

Photo source All about Birds 

There are as many ways to birdwatch as there are birdwatchers.

In the Bharatpur wildlife refuge in India, I met an American man who regularly traveled thousands of miles in search of a creeper.

In North America, we have the brown creeper. I used to see brown creepers every time I birdwatched. Nowadays, with our decline in species, not so much. In any case, it's not all that hard to see a brown creeper in North America

But this guy, an American, traveled thousands of miles to see the Indian spotted creeper.

I can't really relate to that form of birdwatching.

For me, birding is double duty. As a teacher and writer, I spend a lot of my work day sitting. I chafe. i want to be outside. I want to be moving. And I crave beauty and knowledge of a natural place. I want a relationship with a natural place as much as i want a relationship with a person.

I share that intimacy with Garret. I know it. I'm there in every weather. And I move. I walk. I don't sit in one spot.

I don't go after one species. I see whatever I can see while walking through the park.

Except. When it comes to the wily, elusive snow bunting.

I've been wanting to see one for years. And, in winter, I become a single species seeker.

I spent most of today on the hunt. I went to a rather blasted, post-industrial landscape in search of snow buntings. An expert birder recommended this spot to me. And I saw bufflehead, red-breasted merganser, horned grebe, all good birds.

But no snow bunting.

The snow bunting is a metaphor for life itself.

And life sucks.

I got back to civilization, although where I'd been birding was a weird combination of post-apocalyptic piles of trash, marshes full of plastic garbage, and water that supported fish eating birds, so my return to civilization was along a crooked path. Civilization as shopping malls and new, anonymous, depressing condominiums eating up the last bits of wild New Jersey.

Wilderness a land where beautiful birds eek out their lives amidst our waste.

A friend phoned. I mentioned to him my ever thwarted quest for an encounter with a snow bunting.

He said, "I'd always made fun of birdwatching. It always struck me as a rather silly, eccentric activity. And then I was in a Florida swamp with some friends who are birdwatchers.

So close to us I could count its feathers, I saw a bird that was every color" -- at that he broke off to ask his wife the name of the bird. Painted bunting.

"Yes, i saw a painted bunting, and it was so beautiful and captivating, and it was special that I saw it.

We went on birding that day in the Florida swamp, and around every turn I saw bird after bird, and I realized how special it is. "

Call me Ishmael.

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