Bird brained stories!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

I and the Bird #14--Lake Birdbegon Days

Along with being an erstwhile birder and blogger, I spin yarns of a different sort as a professional storyteller. Now, I give credit to good genes and family upbringing, growing up as I did before cable tv and the internet, but I must also give a nod to one of my native Minnesota's favorite sons, Garrison Keillor of "Prairie Home Companion" fame. Mr. Keillor actually hails from the same county I do, and I listened to PHC from its infancy. I can claim to have been a member of the live audience at Northrup Auditorium for his first-ever national broadcast. Heck, I can remember lining up outside what is now called the Fitzgerald Theater and paying three bucks to be part of the audience. So, when faced with the task of presenting readers with the best of bird blogging, I turned with apologies to none other than my fellow native born Anoka Countyian, offering you the 14th Edition of I and the Bird---with "Lake Birdbegon Days."

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Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Birdbegon. That's to be expected, of course, given that winter has set in and the snowbirds have flown south till spring, abandoning those who adore and search for them to perch in tropical Mexican forests or forage on Caribbean beaches. Add in the post-Christmas doldrums, and it's enough to make one grow downright reflective. It's one of those hallmarks of winter to turn inward even as the days again grow longer, as Victor at "The Clog Almanac" does, musing on the perceptions of birds and the strange perching of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks on a power line. Similarly, Rob of "Birdchaser" also muses upon hope for the future if you'll only believe.

It's a time when birders all over North America engage in that annual ritual, the Christmas Bird Count, heading out in the darkness of the winter morning to count every single bird seen or heard. Members of the Birdbegon Audubon Club met in the church basement, led by club president Pastor Lindquist, displaying the deadly sin called "envy" while they discussed their own paltry count against those such as a b's of "Birding Is Not A Crime." Vesper sparrrows? In northern Illinois? Or Pamela of "Thomasburg Walks," who saw bluebirds, robins and northern shrikes on hers.

Folks down at the TurkeyTrack Tap were discussing the situation, pondering the whole existential "Bird Problem of Winter." Some took the tack that birds are just smarter than we are, and know enough to get out while the getting's good. They must have been out-of-towners, passing through on their way to their ski week at Lutsen, because as we know, all residents of Lake Birdbegon are upstanding and responsible, and can't just go flying off to Barbados anytime they want. One such local, Gwyn of "BirdBrained Stories"--who is not so coincidentally the scribe of this missive--demonstrated this responsible side as she told the locals that it isn't just how many birds she sees, but how well she knows them. Still, a part of her longed to just once, just this once, achieve some small level of fame in the birding world. Maybe she could hope to see more exotic birds, as Duncan of "Ben Cruachan Blog" shares in his stories of Catcher of the Fly, waxing about birds in a green gully with names like "Rufous Fantail," "Golden Whistler," and "Leaden Flycatcher." Curses on responsibility! It's the week after Christmas! She's a teacher, for crying out loud! What's to keep her tied down during that interlude known as "winter break?"

All pretense of responsiblity to laundry and cooking abandoned, she set off in earnest to search out the wild and exotic for herself. Her first stop was with Rob of "The City Birder," who managed to outbird her Christmas Bird Count circle while searching Floyd Bennett Field, Dead Horse Bay and Four Sparrow Marsh--in Brooklyn New York, no less. The shame! That a New Yorker could outbird her circle's measly count this winter. Perhaps "Birdbegon" was aptly named after all.

Dejected but not yet deflated, she set off for points south, much in the manner of the flighty warblers she'd watched the previous summer. Okay, so insects are a bit scarce in Lake Birdbegon in the winter, but what else could be drawing the birds? She discovered that Tom and Shari, of "Bisbee Border Birder Blog," are pretty funny folks, sharing a story of confusion over bird names shared in the United States and the United Kingdom. Maybe the birds just liked that open-minded approach to humor, where a person could laugh out loud, instead of the proper midwestern nose snort. As the kids are wont to say, "Whatever."

Well, this was not the way she'd hoped things would go. Instead of Birding Fame finding her, she was finding the birding fame bestowed upon others, others who were able to visit more exotic locales than the local dump, looking for bears on a Saturday night. Locales such as New Mexico, where Janet, the Freakin' Plover Freak of "Plover Warden Diaries" had a wonderful flashback of early techno-geekness, resulting in of all things, a life bird sighting of a Loggerhead Shrike on one of the antennas at the Very Large Array. My God! A Loggerhead Shrike at the Very Large Array? The shame of it all, to set off from the good town of Lake Birdbegon on some misbegotten search for fame and fortune, only to come upon such an incredible life sighting, from someone whose birding lists include Antarctica? Another birder with some impressive new life birds this year is John, of "A DC Birding Blog," whose new life birds included a Red Knot and King Rail! She could not even begin to think of returning home without pressing on, for fear that the humiliation would be so deep that even a request for a Powdermilk biscuit would be returned with scorn--along with the biscuit, of course, the scorn being of the silent but still polite type.

Quietly, she crossed the border into the great state of Texas, where she'd heard the birding was mighty great, just like the state itself. While here, she encountered Ro Wauer, whom Tony of "Milkriver Blog," pointed out, waxing eloquent about the charms of Ruby Crowned Kinglets. Well! Charming they are indeed, and she gained small satisfaction in knowing that at least where she was from, she could also see the Golden Crowneds! Small satisfaction, however, is not quite on the same level of grandiosity as great fame. Great fame which continued to elude our Lake Birdbegon friend. None of her friends from the TurkeyTrackTap would be out gallivanting about, looking for anything as elusive as Birding Fame, much less Ruby Crowned Kinglets. Nosiree, that's not what life should be about, they'd told her.

It sounded like a challenge, something her sturdy Scandinavian upbringing taught her never to avoid. It was off again, hoping against hope to make one tiny discovery that would be the Next Big Thing in the avian world. Massive Dodo graves, maybe? Nope, someone else already found those. Well, how about new species for a country? Nope again, she was distressed to learn, as Menotti of "Birding Italy" reports the discovery of two new species of Parrotbills settling in Italy. Oh for the love of Pete, anyway. This was growing more and more challenging by the day! Not one new species, but two? Clearly, she was running with the big dogs, and she had no hope of keeping up, being but a young pup from the heartlands of Minnesota. Ooofda, as they said back home at the church lutefisk dinner.

Still, winter break was not yet over. Perhaps that fleeting discovery was just around the corner. Perhaps...or perhaps not, as she encountered Charlie, of "Charlie's Bird Blog," returned from a dream birding trip to Mauritius-the very location of the aforementioned Dodo graves, no less! Who in the world did this bird brained storyteller think she was, anyway, with a pathetic excuse of a year list, trying to chase the brass ring of birding fame in the face of such amazing experiences? Pathetic didn't begin to describe her sense of gloom, matched only by that one incident way back in high school during Luther League. The shame of it all, indeed!

In fact, the lessons learned in those Sunday meetings of Luther League, the ones about "responsibility" and "honor your elders" were starting to loom larger and larger in Gwyn's conscious. They sort of chastised her, in that subtle Minnesota manner, to "think about those chores you have to finish at home." The rebel in her--the part that went Presbyterian--said, "Darn those chores! I have fame to seek!" and she pressed ever onward. Her peripatetic travel brought her face to face with Bora of "Circadiana," with a fascinating post on the possible effects of global warming on the circadian rhythms responsible for migration. Oh my, not only was this heady stuff, but so well presented that perhaps senators responsible for legislation affecting the tide of global warming could possibly understand it. This...this was not simply birding fame staring her in the eyeballs, it was possibly turning the tide of the so-called advance of civilization and its wanton effects on nature. The rebel was just about to hop the next Great Northwestern back to Lake Birdbegon and throw it all in. The rebel just couldn't quite make that jump onto the tracks, not as in youth. So off she went again, ever more determined.

Too many hours on the road made for irrational decisions, as any road warrior who has settled down can tell you. Bad coffee, worse blue plate specials and you just don't think right after a while. That was obvious, as Gwyn jumped from Africa, to the eastern US, and now clear around the globe to New Zealand. Clare pointed her there, and she was drawn to the quiet observations of responsibility, as Pete of "pohanginapete" studies the nearby birds going about their daily routines.

More bad coffee, that frou-four latte instead of the real heavy-weight stuff, and she was impelled beyond reason this time to Alaska, where Dave of " Bird TLC" shared a story of a popsicle fueled Great Horned Owl rescue. Racing without thought to an itinerary that was decent and in order, she visited Julian of "Oeygardenbirds," who while not a Norwegian bachelor farmer, was a birder in Norway, enjoying views of birds with poetic names like Fieldfare and Ruddy Turnstone. From here, she ricocheted back across the ocean to visit Beth of "Firefly Forest," only to be taunted by a cousin of her old nemesis, an Anna's Hummingbird. Then it was off to visit Eric of "Feather Weather," with a visit home and the story of the Peabody Ducks, who are not really wild anymore, but almost as funny as Beth's angry hummingbird. Crisscrossing to Long Island, she met Danielle of "This Is Danielle's Den," hearing about her weekend visit with thousands and thousands of scoters. Thousands? Thousands?

One more cup of the worst coffee ever, and Gwyn was ready to head back to Lake Birdbegon, ready to simply take her lumps as well she deserved them. Trudging her way back to Minnesota, she ran into Sharon of "Birdchick," who had made a worthy birding goal for the year of seeing a wild raptor a day. Is this like vitamins? She wasn't sure. She just knew she'd be glad to see any birds yet today. A day like the one enjoyed by David of "Search and Serendipity," in which he'd seen many birds in his Feather Bowl, or that of Jason of "Beakspeak," who saw a sunrise Prairie Falcon and a mystery goose in his visit home to Nebraska, were only the stuff of dreams to her. Heck, she could have simply crossed the river to visit Mike of "Bird Digiscoping" and had a nice look at some backyard birds in living color, or visited the other Mike of "10000 Birds" to see the birds visiting his mother-in-law's feeders. Feeder birds are nice. They are dependable, like those biscuits of her home town. They may not be flashy, but they're honest, a quality after which she'd do well to seek.

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What was that? Something flashed in the leftover seedheads of last summer's wildflowers. A lone Tree Sparrow, balanced precariously on the stems, just as she was between her quest for birding fame and a return of the prodigal to the fold. Whatever had she been thinking? What need was there to jet-set about, seeking bird fame? She suddenly remembered--the holiday season just past might not have been at all, if not for Raven who saved Christmas; at least, that's how Laura of "Birderblog" tells it.

She thought of all those times she'd ignored the birds around her, looking only in exotic places, ignoring the everyday, unlike Cindy of "Woodsong," who witnesses the amazing as she shares her prayer to the birds.

She promised herself that even facing the polite scorn of her friends at the TurkeyTrack Tap, she would always keep in mind what she learned from even the humblest of birds, so eloquently stated by Grrlscientist of "Living the Scientific Life." Steeling herself with inherent midwestern stoicism, she entered the darkened quarters of the neighborhood gathering spot, only to see this announcement posted over the bar:

Mike, Charlie and the rest of the Birding Gear Big Board gang are giving away a couple of copies of the "Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" DVD. Do you have it in you to cast an invasive avian species in a positive light? If you can say something nice about a nonnative species using words or pictures, you might get yourself a copy of this acclaimed documentary. Check for details on the Birding Gear Big Board.

She could do this! Fame in the birding world was within reach! House Sparrows! Certainly she could write something nice about them, couldn't she? After all, in the immortal words of her childhood hero, Thumper's mother in Bambi, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

And that's the news this week from Lake Birdbegon, where all the hens are strong, the roosters good-looking and the chicks are way above average.

Next time, this show will be brought to you by the good folks at Snail's Tales. Get your submissions in to Mike or Aydin by January 17.


  • Gwyn, let me be the first to applaud your original, anecdotal approach to hosting I and the Bird. Garrison Keillor would be proud!

    By Anonymous Mike, at 9:27 PM  

  • I *knew* this would be a great installment- absolutely wonderful Gwyn! I see some new names on the list,can't wait to check them out.
    What a great way to start the new year. Well done my friend :)

    By Anonymous Cindy, at 10:05 PM  

  • I can tell you put a lot of effort into this, with great results. It's great to see new blogs represented too.

    By Blogger John, at 10:20 PM  

  • Wow! It is wonderful!

    By Blogger coturnix, at 12:05 AM  

  • Great Story Gwyn,

    This carnival just keeps growing and getting better every issue. Wish I had had something for it this time.

    By Anonymous Clare, at 12:29 AM  

  • Awesome job Gwyn. Glad to see some new names on the list.

    By Blogger Dave, at 1:41 AM  

  • Nice one storyteller.

    By Blogger Duncan, at 3:06 AM  

  • Kudos!

    By Blogger Amy, at 11:26 AM  

  • Wonderful story Gwyn. Adventure and a moral too!

    By Blogger Pamela Martin, at 8:03 PM  

  • Gwyn!!!! This totally rocks! I had never seen a "blog carnival," but if this is a typical example, then I will be sure to look for more. If only you wrote them all!!! Huzzah, huzzah!!!!


    By Blogger Bay in TN, at 9:17 PM  

  • ok gwyn . . . i'm going to have to save lake birdbegon days for tom . . . but i just had to tell you . . . the pic of the tree sparrow takes my breath away. :D

    By Blogger doris, at 9:53 PM  

  • wow, wonderful work! i am especially excited to read the contributions from the new peeps in this collection.


    By Blogger GrrlScientist, at 9:57 PM  

  • Great post Gwyn. I love it!

    By Blogger TroutGrrrl, at 11:17 AM  

  • Fabulous! Very enjoyable.

    By Anonymous Kay Bell, at 4:19 PM  

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