Reflections on a Deceased Wader

I feel inspired to write some thoughts about the Wood Stork first spotted last weekend at Cape May.

I was genuinely saddened upon reading yesterday of its death. I had observed the bird roosting in the pond at the Beanery late Tuesday afternoon. It seemed serene and calm. In retrospect, I realize that I was looking at a creature sapped of all energy and vitality, and likely unable to do anything other than allow its life essence to slowly drain away. It almost seems a pyrrhic victory to have it on my year’s list: as birders, we know we can’t “tick” a dead bird. This one was, at least by the time I observed it, on an inexorable and very short path to that status.

But I think it goes further than that: the thrill of “rarity” is that fate, luck, the Eternal…call it what you will…has brought a vital, free, living entity with wings (thus, theoretically, allowing it to be anywhere on the planet) and its observer to an improbable confluence in time and space. We want that existential moment of contact to have a continuance into the future for both entities. It seems a shame if one of the two members experiences a termination of its life’s path right there.

We know that some rarities are not likely to survive: I think about the Fork-tailed Flycatcher in Hadlyme, CT a few winters back. The berry supply in the micro-territory where it was foraging would run out in a matter of days, and there were no insects in 10 degree weather. All of the thrilled observers knew, I think, that the bird was doomed. But that demise no doubt happened long after, out of the view of the dozens of birders who saw it in its early days. The Stork, by comparison? We practically watched its dying.

I hope that the autopsy helps increase understanding of bird mortality and big-bird wanderings. What brought that magnificent, enormous wader to the quiet of the Beanery pond for us to watch its last moments? What drove it from its warm, southern home 800 miles north into colder, less friendly air, just to pass away? We will really never know, but perhaps we can learn something from its last, fateful journey.

Good birding.

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