Tag: birds

Back in 2001, I left Jackson, Wyoming and a really sweet library job to get a Master’s in Environmental Studies at the University of Montana in Missoula. I’d read a lot of Terry Tempest Williams and written some sappy poetry, and I really wanted to be a Nature Writer and save the planet. Less than a year later, I ended up a defeated, depressed dropout with a student loan, working on an organic farm in Whitefish, Montana for a hundred bucks a month plus room and board. No way could I have envisioned that 15 years later I would be back in Jackson with my own freelance bookkeeping business, finishing the novel about the farm that I started so long ago.

Nor would I have thought that I’d dust off an essay I wrote for one of my grad school classes, with the initial intention of turning it into a blog post. We had to choose an extinct or endangered species and write a brief, creative nonfiction essay. I picked a tiny warbler from the coastal plains of the American South. Maybe I chose Bachman’s Warbler because I grew up in Georgia. Maybe I chose it because I wanted to go small. And not simply size-wise. Bachman’s isn’t famous. But I have never stopped thinking about this lost little bird.  I did a massive amount of research while I was a writer in residence at Hypatia-in-the-Woods in Shelton, Washington – and I did my damnedest to craft an essay that I hope honors one fragile strand in the great web of life. And I am overjoyed that Zoomorphic is publishing “Last Known” in its fifth issue.

I’d really like to thank the field biologists and Bachman’s experts who took time out of their busy lives to respond to my emails and phone calls. Paul Hamel, Sidney Gauthreaux, Chuck Hunter, Robert Norton, Bob Ford, Kenneth Rosenberg, thank you all.  Isabella Kirkland’s hauntingly gorgeous oil painting deserves contemplation.  And mostly especially, a big thank you to Craig Watson of the Atlantic Coast Joint Venture, who read my drafts, sent me his own personal copy of Paul Hamel’s book Bachman’s Warbler: A Species in Peril as well as a precious dvd film of the warbler, and provided invaluable feedback.

You can read “Last Known” here on the Zoomorphic website.


Painting of Vermivora bachmanii by Louis Agassiz Fuertes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

field notes read me

IMG_2838I know Spring is here, because April and my list of poetry month projects loom large, the redwing blackbirds are conk-la-reeing all over the place, every pair of shoes I own is caked with mud, and the Teton Park Road is plowed and open for non-motorized access.  Also today I saw a mountain bluebird while I was out walking on the aforementioned road, spring wind blasting across the melting snowfields.

Driving home, there were seven moose (maybe more but I didn’t want to run off the highway trying to count) hanging out in the sage flats and getting harassed by paparazzi.  And lo, a group of bison just on the other side of the Elk Refuge fence (mercifully on the other side of the fence, since everybody was right up against it, ogling those one-ton beauties).

IMG_2831For several mornings now, a herd of elk has visited the field south of my house.  And yesterday while I was walking along the Snake River, the two bald eagles who nest along that stretch indulged themselves in some graceful, and I hope fun, soaring above the braided channels.

So yeah, I am totally bragging.  Wyoming is some kinda sweetass awesome if you’re into Nature and stuff.


Mountain Bluebird By Jesse Achtenberg (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service WO-2283-CD60) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Grand Teton National Park and Snake River photos by me.

field notes

Let’s be thankful for the carrion eaters today.  The scavengers, the garbage pickers, the gleaners.  Somebody’s gotta eat the leftovers, right?

Let’s talk turkey vultures.  Those horrifyingly beautiful buzzards who can eat pretty much anything, including leprosy.  Whose guts are full of botulism and power-microbes, capable of digesting the nastiest, deadest meat.  Gross?  Don’t think about it that way.  We’re talking about 65 million years of co-evolution between bacteria and bird.  A bird whose sense of smell is so keen it can detect, in flight, the scent of ethyl mercaptan, a gas produced by decaying flesh.

The five subspecies of turkey vultures are native to North and South America.  They’re a completely separate order from the Old World vultures of Europe, Asia and Africa.  Even though both types of vultures share similar appearance and eating habits, they are descended from different ancestors.  This is convergent evolution – the process by which natural selection influences similarities between unrelated organisms adapting to shared conditions.  In this case, the ecological role of the carrion eater is now fulfilled by a total of 23 different species of vultures now inhabiting planet Earth.

So if you’re taking a walk this holiday weekend in the States, with a belly full of turkey, and you happen to look up in the sky and see these big, bald and lovely birds, soaring on thermals with their characteristic rocking-V flight pattern, say thanks to the Turkey Vulture.

Photo of vultures in flight courtesy of Pixabay.

field notes