by , Dec 3, 2009, 2:00 PM
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Egrets, I've had a few. Also macaws, warblers and cardinals. All make up the extraordinary world of our avian friends; there are 600 North American species alone. For amateur and professional ornithologists alike, the bird world is a source of endless fascination. Unlike many subspecies of humans, blue jays are known for their intelligence and tight family bonds. Even the ubiquitous American crows, unlike Wall Street, are good learners and problem solvers. Such is Audubon's turf; this beautifully produced magazine believes, like Emily Dickinson, "hope is the thing with feathers."


However, Audubon is not a parochial pub. Nature is its focus, so conservation is a key concern.

In addition to articles about birding and ecotourism, whales, oysters and prairie dogs figure in this issue. So does the economic incentive for fishermen to institute "catch shares" that set an allowable catch each year. This gives fish time to reproduce and fisherman nine months to fill their allotment, creating long-term prosperity above and below sea level. The ecosystem is complicated and interconnected, and the magazine does an able job of covering its beat: the world.

Did you know Peru boasts over 1,800 different species of birds? That's thanks to its variety of habitats -- coastal wetlands to high deserts -- which houses the rare sword-billed hummingbird, the only bird whose bill is longer than its body. If it was a person, it would be Glenn Beck. Venture to the Galapagos and see why the blue-footed booby and the giant tortoise were a boon to Charles Darwin. Lake Baikal in Siberia is home to the nerpa, the only freshwater seal. True, most of us won't make the pilgrimage to see such wonders, but understanding wildlife is part of the national discussion about the environment. And it ups your political IQ.

That's also part of Audubon's mission, to provide a place where "nature enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers and socially conscious consumers can discover, connect with and be inspired by the natural world's extraordinary beauty and diversity." In the "Buying Time" story, we learn private-land stewardship is critical to healthy bird populations in New England, since many, like the bobolink, have been hurt by development, reforestation and modern agricultural practices. It's not an either/or proposition; the goal is a cost-share program that enables farmers to grow the hay they need while protecting endangered animals.

If we can build a Bridge to Nowhere, surely we can build fiscally sound farming practices that save grassland species, like the savannah sparrow. Let's use the annual raise Congress allots itself! Who's with me? In late 2008, Congress got an automatic $4,700 a year raise, bringing their porky salaries to about $174,000 each. Frankly, I think the birds are more valuable -- and I'm positive they have saner spending practices.

I'd also like to use federal bloat to send bird lovers to Israel, one of the top birding destinations and among the most important migratory flyways, per an informative Audubon feature. Explore Jerusalem, bask on Tel Aviv beaches, bob in the Dead Sea -- then look up. This tiny country harbors spoonbills, graceful prinia and white-throated kingfisher, big deals for those in the know. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel even organizes tours for serious birders.

Still, when I hear the word "sandpiper," I assume it's the 1965 Burton-Taylor movie, where he plays a repressed Episcopalian priest and she doubles as the town harlot, mostly because she's artsy and wears a push-up bra. Big Sur had its share of birds; though in this instance, purely of the female persuasion.

Actual bird watching -- on any level -- is a great way to see the world and the U.S., from the Florida Keys to Arizona's Sonoran Desert. It's a kind of secular spiritualism, where devotees revel in creation. I'm a confirmed urbanite, most secure with concrete under my feet, and the magazine won me over. "Beauty will save the world," wrote Dostoyevsky. Just ask a birder.


Published by: National Audubon Society

Frequency: Bimonthly

Web site:

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