Saturday, September 1, 2007

Of Kirtland's Warblers and Eskimo Curlews

Oh, wow--yesterday the new issue of Birder's World came in the mail, and it's a great one! The cover story is about the three Kirtland's Warbler pairs with active nests in Wisconsin last year. When I first heard the news, I was thrilled, and seeing such a vivid photo makes it even more exciting and joyful for me. An inside photo shows a singing male from behind, with leg bands clearly visible--he had been banded not in Michigan but on his wintering grounds in the Bahamas in November, 2003, and was seen again there in 2004. This is even more exciting news!

Then there is another article, "Another Grail Bird Spotted" by Randy Hoffman. On September 24, 2006, in Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, Randy was hiking with his wife when he came upon what he's certain is an Eskimo Curlew! As a top-notch birder, past president of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology, natural-areas management specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, author of Wisconsin's Natural Communities (University of Wisconsin Press, 2002) and author of several bird/habitat relationship articles regarding the state's breeding birds, Randy has huge recreational birding and professional ornithological credentials. He knows how difficult and controversial this kind of sighting is, and notes:

Scientists consider sightings of extremely rare species to be only hypotheses that require rigorous examination. My observation is scientifically weak evidence that the Eskimo Curlew exists, but when combined with a long list of other reports (the sightings are listed at the bottom of the article), it forms a hypothesis that the species is not extinct. Only true scientific endeavor can reject or accept the hypothesis.

Nonetheless, in good conscience in the fall of 2006, I took a pen and carefully made a check on my life list by the Eskimo Curlew. Hope does remain for the species. My observation has motivated me to press for continued investigations. I encourage searches, especially extensive work in Labrador in August and September, to gather more conclusive evidence of the long-sought bird's continued existence.

I happen to know Randy Hoffman. When I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, I birded a couple of times with him--as a matter of fact, he showed me my lifer Barred Owl and my first Wisconsin Yellow-crowned Night-Heron on May 7, 1978, at one of his favorite spots in Columbia County. I loved being out in the field with him--he knew every sound and detected not just movement but found that perched Barred Owl amid the shadows even though the bird didn't blink an eye. He was also pretty unassuming and friendly for a genuinely great birder. So I'm glad he saw the bird, and I sure hope that someone is inspired to get out there with a camera and find again this magnificent ghost. Meanwhile, Randy's article in Birder's World is well worth reading. Heck, the whole magazine is!