Wednesday, July 9, 2008
What are these people doing?
They are looking at a bird, a tiny brown streaked sparrow that they know they can't see anywhere else but here in North Dakota.
They have a lot of equipment with them, thousands and thousands of dollars' worth of equipment. All of it, along with all of their attention, is focused on the tiny brown bird popping in and out of the grasstops.One group is walking toward its bus as another group disembarks. The first group has seen the sparrow; the second wants to see it. Coming together on the plain, they look like pike-bearing Scots clansmen meeting the Hanoverians at the Battle of Culloden. The thought occurs to me and Rondeau Ric at precisely the same moment, and the good Scotsman is kind enough to send me his picture of the bloodless battle.Photo by Bonny Prince Ric MacArthur.
This scene seems ridiculous, even to me, but there you have it. And it's an efficient bit of ecotourism, to bring everyone out in one fell swoop to see a rare bird that will likely go undisturbed for most of the rest of the summer.
All right, then, the bird in question. You may gasp at its plainness, its lack of apparent distinction.
It is neither Count Raggi's bird of paradise nor a kiwi, cassowary or kagu. It is a small brown sparrow with a limited distribution in the northern Plains and prairie provinces of Canada, a small blue blob on a large white map.
But the Baird's sparrow sings with a mellow bouncing trill that is the sweet embodiment of prairie sun, and I am glad that there are people who can appreciate it and travel thousands of miles to see it.