Tuesday, December 11, 2007


From The Wind Blows by Peter Matthiessen:

"The sanderling is the white sandpiper or 'peep' of summer beaches, the tireless toy bird that runs before the surf. Because of the bold role it plays in its immense surroundings, it is the one sandpiper that most people have noticed. Yet how few notice it at all, and few of the fewer still who recognize it will ever ask themselves why it is there or where it might be going. We stand there heedless of an extraordinary accomplishment: the diminutive creature making way for us along the beaches of July may be returning from an annual spring voyage which took it from central Chile to nesting grounds in northeast Greenland, a distance of eight thousand miles. One has only to consider the life force packed tight into that puff of feathers to lay the mind wide open to the mysteries - the order of things, the why and the beginning. As we contemplate the sanderling, there by the shining sea, one question leads inevitably to another, and all questions come full circle to the questioner, paused momentarily in his own journey under the sun and sky."

* * *

These are inspiring words to me - it's how I like to personally experience birds. I especially like the idea that to appreciate the whole bird, one considers its past as well as its future, which also renders a sense of real destinations and locales. In a veritable thread of migration, while a bird may appear to be "safe" on a beach in Florida, the welfare of a sanderling also depends on maintaining habitat in Greenland, Chile and elsewhere along its migratory journey. The thread can disappear entirely merely by severing it one localized spot. When I read stories and news articles about habitat being destroyed (and there sure are a lot of them) in the Boreal forests, jungles of the Amazon, Borneo, Sumatra, Congo and a myriad other gorgeous wild places, I can't help but think about the immediate and direct impacts, but also what happens in the periphery, how it might reverberate throughout the world. What does it ultimately mean for us under the sun and the sky?

The loss of suitable habitat on summering or wintering grounds means that something beyond is lost - perhaps the absence of sanderlings running along a summer beach. When you view a bird in the field, ponder where it came from, how long it might stay and where it will go thereafter - time, distance, location. On this day, there is its home is this field, this beach, these woods, but also various habitats dotted by an invisible thread across the latitudes. Every day, if you look, there are numerous articles about habitat being destroyed and declining bird populations. It's depressing to think that in a matter of several decades there may be dozens of bird species lost forever. It's also true that there are success stories on protecting habitats, but it hasn't been enough to curb population declines for so many species. We should endeavor to do what we can within our own borders to protect what we've got left. When you hear a story about habitat being destroyed beyond our borders, try to think about what it means for the feathered travelers that spend time living on the wind and what you can do to ensure they will always have a safe place to land, wherever that may be.

Link: American Bird Conservancy

Link: BirdLife International

Link: The Nature Conservancy

Link: National Audubon Society

Sanderlings © 2007 Mike McDowell

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