Shorebirds in the air inspire a trip afield – Loveland Reporter-Herald

A noise in the night woke me up.

I didn’t sleep, but I was separated.

Taking my routine evening stroll now means walking in the dark instead of the sunset twilight. Instead of caring about the world around me, my mind wandered about various projects and deadlines, goals and ambitions and the consequent need to subject good intentions to discipline.

So the sound didn’t wake me from sleep, it woke me from separation, that fact that the mind is in one place while the body is in another.

Too much a whistle to be a screech but too much a hoot to be a whistle, the sound came from that realm above the ground of the earth but beneath the stars of the sky. Looking up to see what had created that distinctive sound, I heard a second sound that was noticeably different from the first, and a third sound that was obviously different from the other two.

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And I saw a few figures moving from north to south. No shadows, they were real birds in flight, albeit not in the light. I knew them all by combinations of shape and sound and size, but seeing them made me think of unanswered questions.

Were they on their way as this season is ahead of them? Or were they just moving from one reservoir to another, possibly to escape a coyote or fox?

A long-beaked curlew made that first whistle-screech-toot sound, and four of them flew overhead together.

A killdeer made the second sound, a sort of whining whistle. I only saw one but heard several others, all flying in the same direction as the curlews.

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A spotted sandpiper uttered the third sound. This species makes one sound when it is on the ground, another sound when it flies from one coast to another, and a third sound when it flies up to get somewhere else.

These three shorebirds diverted my thoughts in unexpected ways.

The famous radio commentator Paul Harvey became famous for explaining difficult human situations with the saying “It’s not one world”.

But shorebirds say otherwise.

Some species migrate across two or even three continents and two or three oceans to spend winters in one part of the world but summers in a completely different part of the world. And generation after generation, they do so with seasonal precision.

Their behavior suggests that it is indeed one world, but a world with many places. These places have ecological similarities without being ecologically identical.

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As I rounded the corner that marked the halfway point of my nightly walk, my heart soared with those curlews and killdeer and that spotted sandpiper. But my mind, which was prone to wandering anyway, lagged behind as it considered possibilities.

If I spent a day visiting local reservoirs, how many different shorebirds could I find? What if I could spend another day visiting other reservoirs? What might I find if I search randomly, and what might I find if I search consciously? Could I find a red knot or ruff?

On the way home, my ears caught this realm above the earth but under the stars, while my mind planned a day far away to occupy myself with a pod of birds that fascinates me, a pod of birds that fascinate me connects.

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