Thursday, May 6, 2010

May 6: Midnight

When Dick, a birder friend, called me at work yesterday morning, the first thing I said was, "What'd you see?" His reply, "You're going to think I'm crazy." Then, "Listen." And he played me a recording of the song of a chuck-will's-widow. If you're not a birder, that name alone probably makes you think you understand the bit about thinking he's crazy. But, like its cousin the whip-poor-will, chuck-will's-widow was named for what it sounds like it's saying. Loudly, over and over again, in the middle of the night. So the name isn't what's crazy. The crazy part is that chuck-will's-widow, a bird of the south, is normally nowhere near Maine. There are only a handful of reports of this bird being seen (or more likely, heard) in the state. And yet there it was, according to Dick, singing outside his window at 5 a.m.

After he hung up, I immediately emailed an ornithologist I know who's compiling a complete record of Maine's bird sightings. He replied that there were only six or seven records of chuck-will's-widow in Maine and that, on the slim chance the bird might have stuck around, I should go out that night to try to hear it for myself. So when I found myself still awake at 11:30 last night, thanks to a good mystery novel, I decided to have a listen. 

As I slowly drove around Dick's neighborhood in my pajamas at midnight, it occurred to me that I might need an excuse in case someone got suspicious and called the cops. And explaining that I was looking for Chuck Will's widow... well, not so sure how that might go over. But I saw no cops. Or other cars. It was a beautiful night for driving around listening for a bird that wasn't supposed to be there, the warm wind blowing through my open car windows. I drove past an open field and paused for a while, thinking that might be good habitat for the bird. A loud chorus of frogs hummed and trilled in the background. The cloudless sky twinkled with stars and at least one planet (Mars). I felt grateful that my wild bird chase had led me to such a perfect moment, a moment when I would normally have been sound asleep. 

Empty of birdsong
yet full of stars, singing frogs--
back road at midnight.

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