Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Kirtland's Warbler: A story of a bird's fight against extinction and the people who saved it. By William Rapai

Well, this is my second book on my summer reading list that I have managed to finish! And boy was it ever interesting!   I don't think that many people will be willing to sit through and read this novel, but those of you who are really interested in biology/ecology/history, I think would love it.  Parts read like a regular novel but then others were as if you were reading out of an interesting chapter of a textbook (for me...I actually loved reading textbooks in school. I'm a nerd, I know).

The first description of a Kirtland's Warbler I came across just sent my imagination on fire.  I had never seen a picture of this bird, nor really knew much about it.  But after reading this, the picture of this bird, perched high singing...was quite the sight!
" The bird perches on a limb, every muscle in its body tense, points his head towards the sky and lets out a burst of clear, bubbly song, easily audible at a distance of a quarter mile. In singing, so much effort and vigor are put forth that the tension of the jugulum and throat is very noticeable and it seems as though the singer's throat will burst from the sheer forse of the song" p.20
Later in the book, a researcher working with the Kirtland's Warbler had this to say:
"...no other animal had captured her imagination like the Kirtland's. "First of all the species is an amazing species. They let you into their lives, so it's easy to get attached right away...I mean intimately in terms of being in the woods, being on the territory, watching them mate, watching them feeding the babies, raising their families. I mean, seriously, letting me into their family rearing - their lives. It's pretty awesome!" p115-116
 I could only imagine being that attached to a single species like she did and especially having that close of contact!  I like way too many things to be close to choosing a particular species that I would like to focus on, but hopefully one day I will get to that point!

There were a few things that shocked me in the book.  The novel started off by explaining the way science had been carried out in the early 1900s which included things such as shooting a species to bring it back and ID it.  When the first person saw the Kirtland's Warbler, that's exactly what he did because he had no idea what it was and had never seen one before.  Once they ID'd it, all the other scientists and collectors wanted to have one too, so even though this was a species no one had seen and assumed was rare...they all shot as many as they could for their collections.  What a way science worked!  Finally, as science progressed, a quote also reminded me of my time in Environment and Resource Studies where the key to being successful was having a systems thinking approach.  Understanding that everything is tired together...you know...what Mufasa taught us in Lion King!
"Biologists and foresters were no longer making decisions based exclusively on the endangered warbler.  Now they were managing the ecosystem based on the knowledge of all plants and animals and soil it contained...When skeptical taxpayers asked why the government was spending so much money and effort on one bird, habitat managers could say that they weren't spending money on just one bird; they were spending it on an entire ecosystem." Page75
Not everything in the book was glorious and I like how it didn't portray the government workers as all being miracle workers, but regular people going a job that they loved.  Some making mistakes...sometimes huge mistakes...but in the end realizing that they need to have a connection with the communities if they were going to succeed in helping this creature.  Many times it was their swift decisions and lack of bureaucratic bullshit that saved this species while it was on the brink.  I think that's something that we've lost a lot of today.  Even working within the government, it feels so disconnected with the public and every decision just takes ages to make.  It's no wonder so many species and other things suffer at the hands of "needing to get the paper work done" instead of just doing.  The government in this book decided just that once they realized how upset the communities around them were, for many reasons.  The Kirtland's Warbler no longer had a name, and instead it was called "That damn bird!".  They decided to hold a festival for the community to celebrate the species and environment. People from all over the country came to partake and it helped the Kirtland's to once again be a source of pride, help the community realize the significance of the species, and gain a closer relationship between government and public.
"83% of respondants said that attitudes had become more positive specifically as a result of the festival..."it was helpful for members of the community to see us as real people and not just as bureaucrats" p. 91
This is the last of my little ramble for now...I'll end with what the book ended with.  As soon as I read this little bit, everything just stalled.  It was one of those moments where finally, someone else spoke the words you've been trying to say but just can't articulate.   For years I've been trying to explain my fascination with nature and my drive to pursue not only a career in it, but a life in it.  Somehow, I've just never really been able to articulate it.  Sure, perhaps to some people who think nature and birds are stupid (even though without it...well..you'd be SOL) wont understand this quote either. To me...it rang a sense of sureness to me,  a sense that yes, this is what I want to do with my life and I know this because these real people have lived it and are saying the exact things that run through my mind everytime I see the slightest amount of joy in a passing bird, or a budding woodland flower.  It's just good to get that reassurance sometimes ya know?
"...people get high off of seeing such a wonder of creation. It's a work of art that can never be replaced if it ever disappears. And it's a fascinating machine. Could we ever invent something that weighs five ounces and flies back and forth to the Bahamas and sustains itself? "
"But you have to have a drive and a burn.  It's a love affair with that bird and the habitat. If you love something bad enough, you are going to work for it."
My wish...is that all of you find that drive and that burn for something in your life. It's an amazing fire.

Up next:  Mind of a Raven by: Bernd Heinrich