On Sunday we had a bright, if still quite cold, day here and we took our young puppy friend on a longer walk than normal and through an area in our neighbourhood we hadn’t visited before. We came to a some railroad tracks and were happy to explore around the junk-strewn way space for a while. Years ago, when the tracks were more accessible by our old apartment we enjoyed having the relatively wild fields that ran along side. Railroad tracks are a haven and ultimately the end for all sorts of plant and animal species and many of my first bird identifications were around those tracks.
Back to last Sunday… we were crossing one set of tracks when Gayla noticed the body of a bird that was fairly intact but probably clipped by a fast moving train. What might seem odd to many people is that the curiosity and fascination of most naturalists often extends beyond death. While my preference would always be to see live and active plants and animals, the chance to see a specimen up close can sometimes be the only time certain details are visible.
Some Victorians may have valued the aesthetics of natural curiosity above living breathing Nature but collections of “study skins” and holotypes are still useful means for up-close inspection of birds and other species. My personal goal isn’t rigorous scientific study but I have still always held an interest in seeing the anatomy of various species as closely as I could. Though I have to admit a great fondness for natural assemblages and collage like the boxes of Joseph Cornell.
A couple of photos taken on the scene lead me to later discover that the bird we found at the tracks was a Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris). They aren’t uncommon birds and they seem to anecdotally be found around way spaces like railroad lines but I had only ever seen them in passing in books before Sunday. Even in its twisted and still form, the Lark sparked some type of thrill, in experiencing difference. I felt a twinge, a sort of self-doubt, in feeling excited to be seeing this lifeless bird but death holds more than its fair share of wonder as much as we might want to cast that fascination to the side. Without getting too Circle of Life, death is just a part of it all.