Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Lapland Longspur! What’s All the Fuss?

Lapland Longspur

Lapland Longspur

Sometimes watching birders is almost as much fun as watching the birds themselves. Recently birders from all over descended upon DeKorte Park and surrounded a tiny but very cooperative visitor from the far north, the Lapland Longspur.

As this deceptively beautiful bird went about its business, ignoring the overwhelming snapping of the birding paparazzi, scopes, binoculars, cameras and people in every imaginable description   were strewn across the trail from every possible angle and configuration in hopes of getting a better glimpse of the rare visitor to the Meadowlands. But what was the fascination? Sure there are prettier birds or even more rare species to be found.

Lapland Longspur Credit: Ron Shields

Lapland Longspur
Credit: Ron Shields

For many birders it is was a chance of a “life bird” that drew them to the end of Valley Brook Avenue, the very first time they were lucky enough to have it in their sight. A bird they can add to their list. A few wanted to post a photo and/or maybe just tell friends that they had been lucky enough to view this wonderful little bird. But some birders don’t concern themselves with lists or even photos, so what is it really all about?

I believe the real true reason that birders turned out in great numbers to see the Longspur, and for that matter come out for every other bird rare or otherwise, is the connection we attain, like no other pastime or pursuit that helps us understand we are connected to the natural world no matter where we live.

Sometimes I am asked what birding really is. Is it a hobby, a sport, passion or lifestyle? Well, it might be all those things and more, but what I believe it is truly a way that we can be an eyewitness to nature. Not only to species that live in our backyard but ones that arrive and thrive from countries and continents around the world.

We may never all get to travel to faraway places, go birding in the tropics or the far north, but we can see birds like the Lapland Longspur that began its life far to the north in the Arctic Tundra. Against all odds this tiny bird weighing no more than 1 ounce survived and endured despite every possible obstacle, hazard and threat to travel all the way to the Meadowlands.

An incredible and almost implausible journey done by not only this lone Longspur but by millions of other birds that we can be witness to connecting us firsthand to environments and places that at times we can only imagine.

For the many watching the Lapland Longspur that day it was a special time to appreciate a species that depends not only on the Meadowlands but habitat many miles to the far north and everywhere in-between.

They all tried to imagine its arduous journey south. They felt concern for its future and better understood the connection and the vulnerability of all our birds that visit places like the Meadowlands.

We may not have thought about it as scientists would, or with the understanding of a wildlife biologist, but we sure can understand in our hearts and feel it in our souls how special and important all the birds really are. That is what all the fuss was really about.

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