An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of February 7, 2016
Issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort adjoining
Chichén Itzá Ruin, Yucatán, Mexico

AN OPTIMISM OF BIRD MIGRATION

Friend Eric in Mérida sent a link to a New York Times article from last month bearing the title "Bird Watchers Help Science Fill Gaps in the Migratory Story." The heart of the article is an animated map created at Cornell University. On the map, each moving dot represents the flight of a different bird group during spring migration, mostly from the American tropics to summer breeding grounds in North America.

To create the map, researchers used data from more than a million observations made by amateur bird watchers and uploaded to the eBird website, an online, citizen science project. You can read the story and see the flow of birds northward -- many passing through the Yucatan before launching across the Gulf of Mexico onto US shores -- here

When you visualize birds actually making the heroic journey -- remember their nervous excitement building during the days before leaving, recall the old and infirm ones left behind looking so disconsolate, and the utterly exhausted ones dropping onto the beach after crossing the Gulf -- you think that the fluid motion of those dots moving northward is graceful as a ballet dancer portraying a swan, as beautiful as a newborn child awakening and looking around.

The map is even more significant when it really sinks in that each moment of each dot on the map represents data points that were achieved artfully, and by people with clear minds and generous intent.

For, each of the millions of observations was made by people who had practiced birding enough to recognize a species when they saw it; each observer at the moment of identification -- in the field and often under difficult circumstances -- was focusing through life's usual distractions and fog of clutter to the point that a moment in the field could be transformed into information online at the eBird site, and; each birder was generous enough in spirit to do all this without thought of payment, in fact usually at some expense to themselves. They did it just for the pleasure of sharing a moment, an insight, a new piece of information with others. A million times real facts such as a little brown sparrow among cattails on an obscure, mosquito-infested mud bank were crystallized into moments of a dot stuttering northward on that map.

Beyond the obvious prettiness of all this done exceedingly well, the map with its moving dots encourages a kind of transcendent optimism.

For, if something good and inspiring has crystallized in the context of so many of the bird groups represented on the map suffering drastic population decline, and in the face of other news from all over the globe of things and events that are anything but artful, clear minded, and generous in intent, then we have something encouraging.

In fact, maybe there's a Universal Law of Nature that when a kind or class or species of sentient being reaches an evolutionary threshold at which all members of that kind, class or species can share diverse thoughts -- as humans now can via cell phones and the Internet -- maybe something good happens. Maybe at first there's clutter and confusion, such as we see in the Internet's content now, but then comes consensus of insight as manifested by this map, and then, one hopes, enlightened action.

It seems to me, though, that just as likely is that there may be another Universal Law of Nature assuring that whenever some kind of sentient being reaches such an evolutionary threshold, it's unable to overcome the primal aggressions and insensitivities to other living things that enabled it to gain dominance over them... and extinguishes itself -- through war, inaction, or the workings out of mass psychoses.

For my part, whether or not such Universal Laws exist, I'm proceeding as if I believed that the bird map with its elegantly flowing data points is itself a tiny data-point on the Middle Path to universal enlightenment.