February 05, 2015

White Whale

I beak here about birds a lot; I've been keen on them since I was eight years old. At the crest of my early fandom, I kept a mental list of local species I considered must-sees based solely on how colourful they appeared in my Audobon guidebook, and how cool they were to reproduce with my Crayolas. Over time I eventually spotted and life-listed several: the American avocet, the evening grosbeak, the ruddy duck, the ruddy turnstone… the ruddy anything, really. But the blackburnian warbler – that miniscule, black-white-and-orange, canopy-dwelling white whale to my birdwatching Captain Ahab – continued to evade me until I was ready to concede ever seeing one.

It's only natural then, that three decades later – and a few years ago – I was raking the goop and sand left behind by winter from my lawn when my white whale beached itself along my sidewalk on the fringe of downtown Winnipeg. My thankless job was complete, and I headed inside to cop the reward. I returned to the front steps with a drink. A watched pot never boils, and a sought-after bird never presents itself until you say fine, I'm just gonna go ahead and sit on my stoop and enjoy this fine bottle of beer. As I drank – and I swear to you, it was just the one – a most brilliant blackburnian warbler in its Sunday-best breeding plumage descended from the elms above and promptly set about pecking at the detritus from my clean-up. Only a few metres away, in the flesh (and feather).

Right then and there, with a beer in my hand and my favourite bird on the lawn I thought: Life's a pretty sweet fruit. The end.

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