For those of you in Pelee during the Festival of Birds,
On Friday the 13th of May,
Something occurred in which no words
Describe the events what took place that day
That gave way to the act of twitching,
Sending folks to the Tip in herds,
And demonstrated how this “peaceful hobby” might be betrayed,
By the, shall we say,
The less than calm side of the birding world…?
The obsession with rare birds.
Herein lies the account of me, Jeremy Hatt,
As a witness to the insidious incidences that
Have changed the face of birding as I once knew it,
Join me, brace yourselves, and I’ll walk you through it.
To twitch is an addiction,
One I wish I never knew.
You’d think it only fiction,
But unfortunately it’s true.
See, there’re curious occurrences in a birder’s state of mind
When a rarity worth chasing is within reach,
And we do whatever it takes to find
The twitch; whether it be a trip to the beach,
Or perhaps crowding into a stranger’s backyard,
Or riding a bus into a nuclear plant,
Speeding to a farm for a black-bellied canard
‘Cause to not get there in time is enough to disenchant.
Still we journey to the north, to the south, to the moon,
And we’ll slog our way through a sewage lagoon.
We’ll stand in a blizzard till our fingertips are numb,
When hypothermia sets in we finally succumb.
But it’s all worthwhile once you get a good look
At the bird that was once just a plate in a book.
There’s really no feeling like it.
Purple Gallinule, Ivory Gull, Black-throated Sparrow,
Black-tailed Gull, Hermit Warbler, Anhinga, Willow Ptarmigan
Yes…I’ve missed them all.
But disappointments are quickly replaced,
When a new rarity is being chased,
Until you arrive to find no trace
Of the species of which you were braced
To see, but you’re told it just flew
And you stomp like a child who’s through
With trying. You leave, debased,
Your hopes, for now, erased.
But anyway, I have my own way of easing the pain.
When I miss a rare bird I begin again,
To imagine making clothing of them.
For like Emperor Claudius,
I’m no fan of the misses,
But would adore a ptarmigan cardigan.
‘O tell me Audubon, will birding ever be the same?
Now that its dark soul hath been revealed?
By chasing, Audubon; how do birders play this game?
Please exorcise these demons once concealed.
I once drew such pleasure
In Yellow Warblers and House Wrens,
Their beauty unsurpassed in sight and sound.
But lists now consume me!
No longer care of common birds, unless they bring me closer - to the crown.
The best list, the rarest, the birds we all must see to be
Allowed into the TOC,
To hold on to our dignity,
Worthy of repute, respect, renown.
Let’s get back to our subject, without further ado,
Bell’s Vireo described in a simple haiku.
faint chalk spectacles / one white wing-bar, yellow flanks / robin egg blue legs
It’s late morning when news of the Bell’s Vireo arrives.
Let me tell you, news travels fast in these hi-tech times
And the network in Pelee is truly sublime.
Some are notified by a munificent twitcher,
Who are anti-suppression, making others’ lists richer.
One learns of the bird from the big Book-O-Lies,
While another from the VC parking lot cries.
But o’er radios, iPhones, and similar toys,
Bell’s Vireo can be heard amidst the white noise,
And in whatever way one hears of the bird,
Reactions range from frantic to absurd.
Men drop their tillies,
Women willy nilly,
Their Philadelphia Vireo’s forgot!
All havoc breaks loose!
Chase the wild goose!
For now Bell’s Vireo ought to be sought.
I praise God I’m not leading any afternoon hikes,
‘Cause like the Jeans and the Bobs, and the Barbs, and the Mikes,
I’m stretching my legs and tightening my Nikes
For an event that beginners and experts alike
Will jog for or run for or sprint for or bike,
The chase for the species that’ll no doubt like-
Ly be the best bird of the spring,
A beautiful gem of a thing
That cannot be missed
Or else I’ll be miffed,
And nothing will lift
Me out of that rift,
This is a gift,
And I’m NOT
This is MY park, and I’m gettin’ Bell’s Vireo on my list!
So like, I’m running along Tilden, refusing to fail,
But ahead stand a family group blocking the trail.
T’would be on another day quite ordinary
To inquire whether they’ve the Prothonotary,
But at present the Bell’s Vireo’s the dignitary,
A bird to make May’s list honorary.
I ponder polite words to shriek at these folks,
To get them off-trail and into the oaks,
A clear path made for us brutal blokes:
Chasers! Targets (sometimes rightful) of scorn and jokes.
For those who’ve not met one,
Conceivably a hoax.
But exist twitchers do, exist in the tens,
Poring over field notes in dim dusty dens,
Ticking their lists with hurried pens,
Bragging of records to imaginary friends.
They scroll through listservs as if it a race,
Edgy with impatience for the next rousing chase,
Extra bins in the glove box - just in case.
They’ll take off from their spouses without any trace.
Back to Tilden where a fellow chaser beside me with less of a heart
Unfastens his lunch bag and thinking he’s smart,
Withdraws the provisions not required to cart,
Sustentative weapons to make the crowd part.
“Get out of my way, you half-witted oafs!”
He booms as he hurls a half-eaten loaf.
The state of affairs now quite the pickle,
An all out war over pumpernickel…
I wedge my way through the writhing mass,
Onto the side with the greener grass,
Tilden’s exit close at last!
Forward freedom, ho! Fast!
I sprint through the parking lot and witness the crowd,
The birders are massing, ruthless and loud!
They jump over vehicles, trailers and curbs,
The lack of order downright disturbs.
Within the stampede I see a wild-eyed pair,
Eyebrows so high they’ve entered the hair.
They run with the crowd toward the tram loop,
Mouths frothing as they push to advance in the group.
Park staff adorns Kevlar so as to be bullet-proof.
They endeavor to bring order as the next tram arrives,
Doubtless they thought they could save a few lives.
Recalling the Painted Bunting twitch it’s no surprise,
That in this case they were forced to surmise,
That a Bell’s Vireo sighting could result in demise
As rules of conduct no longer apply.
O’ a licentious ride on the South-bound coach.
Survival of the fittest as we all encroach
On one another’s space, now everyone’s a-cram.
God gave the Devil surfeit strength o’er man.
In with the lion and out with the lamb.
Standing room only, in a sardine can.
O’ a licentious ride on the Tip-bound tram.
Clutching our scopes and our cameras and bins,
Our guides and our radios and provincial park pins,
The tram speeding faster than its wheels can spin,
The locomotive of human freight begins
To careen ’round corners as we pray for our sins.
Then the Driver SLAMMED on the brakes for there on the road,
Stood not a turtle, not a skink, not a frog, nor a toad,
But a trio of birders whose pointed fingers showed
The last known location of the Bell’s Vireo.
The Pelee trams lack doors so the heck with rules,
Each birder grabbed hold of their spotting tools,
And dashed out like they would from a shark in a pool.
One innocent beginner on that busload o’ fools,
Stared in horror as if his hobby was one for ghouls,
And he gaped as folks floundered and flew from the train,
And trampled strangers without any shame.
“Where is it?!” one cried, raising her white-knuckled fist,
“I need this bird for my Ontario list!”
Yes, folks. This is the story of a rather tragic show,
Point Pelee’s 10th record of the Bell’s Vireo.
And just when things could not have got worse,
The following words were spoken, putting an end to this verse.
“I’ve got it.”