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The Kindness of Strangers

July 13, 2010

Several weeks ago I indicated in a blog on Jinx Birds that hell would probably freeze over before I saw a Wryneck in Europe. Try as I might for over twenty years, I had never seen one. Well, I mis-predicted. Judging by the weather I had in northern Germany when I was there recently, hell had indeed frozen over.

A friend of a friend of mine had hooked me up with two birders from Greifswald, a pleasant old Hanseatic town near the Baltic Sea in the former East Germany. They knew that I had some “target bird”; so after dinner one night we headed to one of the many patches of old growth forest still left in this northeastern corner of Germany.

Ernst W. Mayr, the great evolutionary biologist, chose this area to study medicine (his first career) in 1923 because he felt it was one of the great places in Europe for birds. My new friends, Jens and Michael, were so anxious to prove him right that we got caught speeding by photo-radar on the way to the site they’d chosen. (Those shrewd former communists have sure adopted western ways quickly!)

It was cold, rainy and blustery, but we still were successful: Red-backed Shrike, Winchat, Hawfinches, Corn Buntings, and about twenty other species. As we were heading back to the car near dusk, Michael thought he heard something I’d like to see. He took out his iPod (yeah, the former commies have iPods and Svarovski fieldscopes too!), dialed a song, and played it once. Within seconds a Wryneck was twenty meters from us, challenging what he thought was a territorial intruder. I had easily gotten my lifer.

Some people think that using iPods with birding apps is like fishing with dynamite. I now officially disagree. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, their expertise and carefulness, I’m no longer a Luddite when it comes to the latest birding technologies. An iPod got me a lifer I thought I was doomed to never see!

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