he pursuit, the bird, the place -- these are the essence of birding. That, and the joy.
The first flurry of adding new birds to your life list can be so absorbing that often you don't reflect on anything other than where to find the next one. The last one was interesting, but it is not the next one. All this is doubly so when you have an opportunity, as I did, to travel widely in North America and are thus able to find a great many birds in a great many habitats in a very short time. It is just too much, too soon.
One thing that does strike home, however, is how different the areas to which you are going are from each other. The first account in this book takes place in the higher elevations of the Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona. That is not like the pelagic zone.
"Pelagic trips" are sea-going voyages that take birders, and other interested observers, out to the open ocean beyond coastal waters where certain birds, like Leach's Storm-petrel occur. The Leach's is the occasion for another account here.
The Everglades has a great deal of water, of course, and at times being there can even remind you of floating on a sea, but it is, of course, very different from the pelagic zone. That this Sonoran Desert you find yourself in is totally unlike Delaware or New Hampshire or the suburbs of Washington, DC -- or Pawnee National Grassland -- is a thought that occurs to even the most single-minded birder in pursuit of his next bird.
After seeing a lot of birds, the idea finally dawned that it would be worthwhile and interesting to memorialize new ones by typing up an account of the adventure of getting to see them, something which by its very nature involves learning something about the bird itself and the place or places where the observation was accomplished. The more of these accounts I completed, the more I realized how much these latter two learnings add to the adventure. Everything about these birds is thought-provoking and enjoyable. The details can be delightfully shocking: parasitism, for example, or blinding mammal infants, or "extra pair activity."
The place can be just as absorbing as the bird. To investigation of the differences in ecosystem already adverted to can be added differences in history, not geological history, though that of course can compel, but social and political history: the CCC, the internment camps, conquistadors, the San Francisco Earthquake, even computer code. The ground you trod upon in pursuit of that winged creature in the bush or on the plain has tales to tell.
In one case, that of the Red-faced Warbler, I have gone back to a time before I made the "memorialize" decision, but for all others the accounts are of birds seen after the concept struck. I wish I could go back not just as I did with the warbler, but with all the other predecessors and reconstruct what happened. But that's the problem. If you don't memorialize: details disappear.
The original accounts were centered on the pursuit, in a few cases that was all that there was. In preparing all of these for publication, I have added accounts of life history and range where that was absent or have enlarged substantially on it when some was originally included. I have added details to descriptions of places and incorporated research about history. All of which I enjoyed greatly. But a signal joy was rereading these accounts -- it comes close to having these experiences all over again. My hope is that readers of 30 Birds will be able to share in this joy and that it will inspire their own pursuits.
Some may find the accounts here eccentric, as they include Supreme Court cases, an ENIAC programmer, a Florida dentist in Attu, the war against Aguinaldo, English poets, Carl Linné, Marineland, murder, Hotspur, sibilicide, nominalism, the Great White Fleet, Monophysitism, and Theosophy, to name a few. I hope in this case eccentricity, if that's what it is, is a virtue.
For a listing of chapters that includes each bird's name, click on Random Footnotes.
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