A while back we put a piece here that was a compilation of three blog posts from our online magazine, “Two-Fisted Birdwatcher.” And there was an intro. Now, upon re-reading that intro, we gotta admit that while it was well intended, it might have run on a bit long. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about writing, it’s that readers generally like it short. So, in this second edition of “Three from Two” …enough intro. If you want to know more about our take on birding, you could check the first “Three from Two.” Meanwhile, here are some fairly new bits from our site that take you to Ireland, a spicy forest and into a field.
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1. “Rethinking Ireland.”
On March 17, I put a semi-serious piece in Viewpoints: “A Bird Watcher in Ireland.” It was about Ireland being interesting, but disappointing in bird diversity. I wised up since then, because of a little book I’d forgotten.
In the clutter of my bookshelves, I recently came across “The Birds of Killarney National Park,” a souvenir from my Irish trip. It was — no joke — skinny enough to be a joke. And it fit with my opinion about Ireland’s lack of birdlife. But, I started looking through it. Unlike other bird books, which are fat and heavy, this one could be read in minutes.
And I got the feeling that each bird in the little book was a bigger deal than any one bird in bigger books. Because there weren’t that many.
“Irish Stonechat. That’s big.”
When you’re in America, you’ve got maybe 900 species to spot. You’ve seen many, and you’re not likely to get blown away.
But in Ireland, there’s around 140, including visitors. If you see even a Stonechat, hell, that’s big.
Point is: Too much choice can de-sensitize you. Less choice can make what you find…more of a find. So, on reflection, Ireland’s a fine place for bird watchers. It’s not just about pubs, music, friendly people and awesome green landscapes.
It’s also about rare birds. Because there, most of them are.
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I saw surprisingly few birds today, even though I was in the woods for hours. But I did have an observation.
Something on the birdless trails tweaked a memory of a recent ball game I watched on TV. Might be the feel of a letdown, because my team lost, but that wasn’t all. There was a smell.
When I watched the game I’d been eating onion pizza. Today, I smelled onion in the green woods. It was pretty strong, and got stronger when I stepped in the undergrowth.
A dimly remembered fact came to mind. This area has been known since pre-Columbian times for wild onions. Some people call them leeks. Whatever, they have a distinctive smell. And they were growing strong where I was hiking.
The word “Chicago” is from a Native American language, and means “wild onion,” as you might have heard. That’s a pretty sensible name. Unlike New York’s “big apple,” whose origin is murky.
There’s no redeeming bird-watching story to share after today’s hike. All I came out of the woods with was a great onion smell in my nose. It made me look forward to lunch. And to my next visit to this place. The birding has got to be better tomorrow. And, besides, I like onions.
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3. “Field Mark.”
Sparrows generally aren’t interesting. They’re drab, small, not much different from each other, and common.
Today I went to a wild field and saw a little brown bird. Sparrow. No need to define it further. But I looked through binoculars. Wait. Not a Song Sparrow, which is what my guess was, since they hang out around here. Not a White-throated, White-crowned, Fox or House Sparrow.
Who cares? Just a sparrow. Then I noticed it had a strangely colored beak. Sort of pink. Bird books call that a field mark. When I got home I leafed through my field guide’s sparrow section. Yeah, they had a sparrow with a pinkish beak. The rest of its field marks matched those I’d seen, too.
The field guide had identified my sparrow by pointing out its field mark, and I admit I found the moment interesting. I got the buzz I used to get when I first started noticing that birds you see out in the world can be matched up to those in a book.
It was interesting, also, that the name of this bird with the distinctive field mark is: Field Sparrow.