Friday, March 1, 2013

"Armchair Birder" or a Birder With Boots? Either Way, Here is a Book to Enjoy

"It was as if three whirlwinds had drawn together at some center, to find there feeding in peace a snowy heron. Its own slow spiral of flight could take it away in its own time, but for a little it held them still, it laid quiet over them, and they stood for a moment unburdened."
-- Eudora Welty, "A Still Moment"

That quote begins the chapter on Snowy Egrets in John Yow's "The Armchair Birder Goes Coastal" (the University of North Carolina Press, 2012), a delightful book on birding filled with both literary allusions and humor. I heartily recommend it, and will cite it here occasionally. "Armchair" is a tad misleading because Georgia writer/editor Yow walks, or slogs, considerable distances from the Outer Banks, down the Atlantic coast, and then west along the Gulf of Mexico, to observe and write about 28 species of shorebirds ranging from the mundane to the spectacular.

Thumbing from one chapter to another, guided only by my curiosity about particular birds, I came upon the Snowy Egrets, the subject of yesterday's blog sighting -- my own precious moment of stillness. (By the way, every chapter I've read so far is delightfully witty and informative.) Regarding the Snowy Egret, I found not only that it is beautiful (which I already knew) but that it was once very much endangered.

Its gorgeous plumes were so prized for women's elegant hats in the late 19th Century that the price rose to an astonishing $32 per ounce, double the price of gold at that time. Plume hunters gunned down Snowy Egrets by the hundreds, sometimes right off their nests, leaving their young to starve. Ultimately, the massacre of snowy and great egrets brought public outrage and sparked a conservationist movement that led to sensible protections of native wild birds. And so it is still possible to savor those still moments when the "snowies" (as Yow playfully refers to them) are using their yellow feet to feed in the marsh ponds, or when they suddenly take flight and then hover magically for a precious instant.

A coastal walk is always enhanced by a close encounter with a Snowy Egret.

© Robert G. Holland  2013

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