A few days ago, I was leaving work as I usually do at 5:00pm My phone went off. No, not a call. It was an email. I admit it - I don't read most of my email. The subject line is usually enough to invite me to read it or delete it. In this case, the subject line hooked me enough to read on.....
[Mich-listers] Long billed curlew. Willow run
That says quite a bit. "Mich-listers" is the list serv for bird nuts. "Long billed curlew" is the bird. "Willow run" is the location.
The body of the email said a bit more:
Lyle Hamilton is currently viewing a long billed curlew at willow run airport in Ypsilanti.
With a time stamp of 4:58pm, all indications were that Lyle was still viewing the second state record of a Long-billed Curlew less than 30 minutes from my house.
Standing well over a foot tall with a wingspan of almost three feet, the Long-billed Curlew is a stunner. The obnoxiously long bill is all about snagging food. If the bird is on the breeding grounds (the orange below), it would be grabbing worms and other creepy-crawlies. During the winter months outside of the breeding season (blue), it is perfectly comfortable on shorelines snagging crabs and the like. A lovely cinnamon wash on the underside of the wings is stunning to see as the bird lifts its wings.
You might look at the map above and think a bird diverting from, say, North Carolina, heading to Montana, could have drifted a tad to the right so as to end up in Ypsilanti. Yeah, maybe, I guess. In the end, we'll never know what happened.
I do know I got a picture.
When Lyle called John (the poster of the email) from the field, a chain reaction was set into motion. Within seconds, the world knew of this bird.
When I first started birding in the early 1990s, 300 species viewed in the state of Michigan was considered the gold standard. 300 birds was the mark of an individual who had been around a bit and had logged some time.
I would argue that number is now 350.
20 years ago, the Long-billed Curlew story would have been different. The chain of communication might have been something like this....
Lyle finds bird. Lyle drives to nearest phone, deposits 20 cents and calls a buddy or two. Presuming someone answers, Lyle gives details of sighting (or leaves a message on the answering machine....presuming said buddy actually has one). Said buddies phone more buddies. Time trickles by. More and more people learn of the incredible sighting....
...but it is too late.
The chain is slow and it is now dusk. Dozens of birders, chomping at the bit, are standing on the road's shoulder at sunrise...hoping the bird isn't gone or dead.....
Such was birding in 1992.
Now, we're plowing through the 21st Century. See it. Click a few buttons on a computer that doubles as phone. Done.
That curlew was a big deal. I met the gold standard a few years back - my 300th bird was a Red Crossbill on February 10, 2001.
I have done it again. Long-billed Curlew. #350.
For the record, I have now recorded the species in five states - Michigan, Nebraska, Colorado, Texas and South Dakota.