Last May I felt compelled to put together some heroic couplets in honor(?) of my (our) nemesis bird.
I do not say its name or write its name. But one can glean from the poem what it is. This “bird” supposedly “breeds” in parts of our adopted home state of Minnesota. We have lived here almost 22 years and never seen or heard one, though.
Last year, on Memorial Day weekend, we drove all the way from the Twin Cities up to Bismarck, North Dakota, looking and listening for one of these LBJs. We managed to get (hear) Yellow Rails, a theoretically more difficult bird. But not this guy.
I was so dismayed by our failure at the time that I wrote a poem during the long trip home. It sat there for a year in my notebook. Then the other day I got to thinking about it again and decided to tidy it up a bit and share it.
Now, one point made clear at the end of this poem was that I was giving up on ever searching specifically for this bird again. And I meant it.
Well, one of the great all-time Minnesotans once drew some cartoons that kind of illustrate where I am with that vow of “never again”….
See, tomorrow morning we are going to go look for one. Ha ha ha.
To put a positive spin on this, I’m really quite proud of my Nemesis Bird. It has worked so hard for decades to avoid us. If I ever do see one it would be really, really surreal. Awkward, even.
To My Nemesis Bird
I must avow, you Birding Gods are fair
The wren to bough you’ve brought, and swift to air
Have gifted us a thousand sounds and sights
Of jays and chats and currasows and kites
Across six continents we’ve carried glass
From shore to swamp to hill to mountain pass
We ticked with thanks the hummingbirds and hawks
On open seas, the skuas and mollymawks
We honored, barfing forth our breakfast meals
Into the waves. So hear ye these appeals
If it so please you, thou Givers of Laws:
(And yes, with life list large, it gives me pause
To pen a poem perhaps quite misconstrued
A crass complaint, ungrateful, thankless, rude)
For twenty years we’ve dipped on this one bird
And not just never seen – but never heard
His stealth we can accept will keep him hidden
And to us his aspect will be forbidden
But oh, to simply hear him as he talks!
The “tic tic zeeeee” from wet and matted stalks
Migration routes him through our very sky
And every spring he takes some rest nearby
One year he even was accounted for
Upon a trail some minutes from our door
While passing through just incidentally
Some interloper did this bird there see
At Ammodramus, thou, we shook our fists
As you kept taunting us from eBird lists
The day before or after, were you got
But on our day, you’d flee or silent squat
In messy sedges where we’ve often searched
On breeding grounds, where you’ve been wont to perch
Not as single spies, but more in fives or tens
To make it worse it seems you have some friends
Particularly one whose DNA
Makes him an “ally” as the field guides say
An avatar with this name conferred:
Grasshopper Sparrow; poor, innocent bird
‘Twas you taught him his song, and some say he
A “difficult” bird is – ha! forgive me
While I compose myself – I had to shriek
My mad, barking laugh, for just this week
Of Grasshoppers were eight or nine about
All climbing swaying stalks where they’d squeeze out
Their buzzy imitations of your churr
Today, though, was the final outrage, sir
For one of these impostor birds muddied
The subtleties of songs we’ve so long studied
And gave our hope some minutes of false glow
Before alighting on barbed wire, to show
His clean, unstreaked flanks and maddening dearth
Of your orange and yellow mixed with tones of earth
Well played, sir! And chastised we then endured
The long drive home, ignominy ensured
You owned us so completely that I swore
To sue for mercy and seek you no more
And no more shall I utter your full name
Just like that Scottish Play of blackest fame
Of harsher nemesis let no one tell
For mighty art thou, Ammodramus l.
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