Remember that post about the unusual bird I was trying to identify? Well, that bird has turned my back yard into the epicenter of an avian sensation.
Turns out it was a Varied Thrush. And a Varied Thrush (which I shall refer to henceforward as VT) in the Chicago area is a Very Big Deal. How do I know it is a big deal? Because every morning I come down to breakfast to see people standing in the alley, bundled up against the freezing cold and peering into my yard with binoculars and cameras (cameras equipped with massive zoom lenses).
You see, VTs are seen in the Chicago region only once or twice a year. (This I am told by Ann, a friend of mine who is a serious birdwatcher). Their normal range is in the Pacific Northwest, but they have been known to make rare and mysterious appearances, like Elvis, in other parts of the US and Canada. To learn more about the VT, check this out.
So this is a very rare opportunity for Chicago area birdwatchers, a chance for a “lifer” – meaning a first ever view of a particular species.
With my permission, Ann posted an announcement about the VT, along with a link to this blog, on a Yahoo Groups site for Chicago birders. Within two days, my little blog got over 800 views. That may not impress some of you, but for me it is a BIG number. So forget Search Engine Optimization – just find yourself a rare bird!
And then the emails started. I had told Anne I didn’t mind people coming to see the VT, they should just write first and let me know. Within hours I had heard from dozens of people, from as far away as St. Louis (about a six-hour drive). All were extremely polite, and most wrote as if requesting a rare and precious privilege. Although I remember one, perhaps a veteran, who asked with military flair: “Request permission to view Varied Thrush!”
Eventually, at my request, some helpful birders put out the word that emails were not necessary, people just needed to observe a few simple ground rules. Since the birders started arriving on Tuesday morning, I believe those rules have been observed scrupulously.
I should say here that while Judy and I enjoy watching birds, we are not serious birders. We like the birds to come to us, to be viewed from the comfort of our covered porch.
So I admire the zeal of the birders. And I will say that without exception they are very nice people, and extremely grateful. One of them brought me oatmeal raisin cookies. Many others have emailed me their thanks, along with detailed accounts of all the birds they saw in my yard and nearby, sometimes with photographs.
It has been a good experience, and should you ever find yourself with a rare bird hanging out in your yard, I would urge you to welcome the birders.
In fact, I feel sometimes that the VT’s celebrity status rubs off on me a bit, as with the business manager of a rock star. I try not to let that feeling get out of hand, or become distorted by jealousy (“You don’t care about me! You just want to look at my bird!”).
So what about you – are you a serious birder, or just a dilettante like Judy and I? What extremes, if any, would you go through to see a beautiful bird for the first time?