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Monday, 20 August 2012

Edward Dorn: Notes from the Fields: An Exaltation of Larks, a Murder of Crows


Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), singing, Morro Bay, California: photo by Alan D. Vernon, 9 February 2008

The meadow larks and the crows don't exist for each other. The lark is apparently always in flight. There is no question that the meadow lark is the loveliest of flying things. It has a slight manner when flying close to the ground, as one is walking across the field, of suddenly rising, sliding right into you with a turn that presents its blurred blue back, and the swift impression is that it is coming straight on back first, the outline of the tail, with the two streamers, the delicate feathering and quivering undercamber of the wings. But I suppose all it did was to turn, a bit, in its course. Then it flies with incredible speed two inches off the ground in a zig-zag line. But whatever manner it chooses, one's senses lag, in picking up the movement, a very sharp sensation, in this case. Or then, it seems, they will tumble together and roll over and over flashing the deep blue wings and the buff yellow breast, as it is with a slow color wheel. Everything flashing in the sun, low, over the green and yellow stubble of the field. What flying! The sheer exactitude of flying complexly and exhaustively, on the air, at that slight height, to the near ground. One sees how flying high in the sky loses its preciseness as flying and becomes, merely, "going someplace," as the crow does, who is better off on the ground, or the eagle, who is known for his nest, or as man, who created a considerable misery in the language when he spoke of himself as "flying," when all he ever did was transport himself in a straight line, a mostly mercantile endeavor from the beginning. Bad flight, in birds as well as man, is curious. One hears of some birds being quarrelsome. And it is known that a crow has a suspiciously high number sense. One can discern as many as five men going into a building, and knows when only four come out.

Edward Dorn: from Notes from the Fields: Skagit Valley, in Measure, 1958

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), in flight, Manitoba: photo by Stewart Oikawa, 16 July 2012

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), Blackie Spit, Surrey, British Columbia: photo by Mike Baker, 16 October 2011

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), in takeoff, Antelope Canyon, Utah: photo by Steve Courson, 20 May 2011

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), in liftoff, Fossil Creek Reservoir, Fort Collins, Colorado: photo by Michael Menefee, 5 April 2008

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Utah: photo by Robinsegg, 25 May 2009

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), Los Osos, California: photo by Kevin Cole, 13 March 2008

Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta), Colorado Springs, Colorado: photo by Matt Bango, 3 October 2010

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), Singing Sands, Bruce Peninsula National Park, Canada: photo by Mdf, 26 June 2009


Northwest Crow (Corvus caurinus), Esquimault Lagoon, Colwood, near Victoria, British Columbia: photo by Alan D. Wilson, 2007


Northwest Crow (Corvus caurinus), Burnaby Lake Regional Park (Piper Spit), British Columbia: photo by Alan D. Wilson, 2010

American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) near Shark Inlet, Los Osos, California: photo by Linda Tanner, 25 May 2009


Anonymous said...

what a wonderful sequence of photos...beautiful interesting note..!!

TC said...

Thank you, Sandra. You are my keenest observer.

By the way, the subtitle of the post came not from the author but from the blogger.

Who in turn got it from a long tradition of birders, who have contributed the (often quite poetic) collective nouns for groups of specific birds.

Many of these are quite wonderful. Here is a selection:

A bevy of quail
A bouquet of pheasants [when flushed]
A brood of hens
A building of rooks
A cast of hawks [or falcons]
A charm of finches
A colony of penguins
A company of parrots
A congregation of plovers
A covert of coots
A covey of partridges [or grouse or ptarmigans]
A deceit of lapwings
A descent of woodpeckers
A dissimulation of birds
A dole of doves
An exaltation of larks
A fall of woodcocks
A flight of swallows [or doves, goshawks, or cormorants]
A gaggle of geese [wild or domesticated]
A host of sparrows
A kettle of hawks [riding a thermal]
A murmuration of starlings
A murder of crows
A muster of storks
A nye of pheasants [on the ground]
An ostentation of peacocks
A paddling of ducks [on the water]
A parliament of owls
A party of jays
A peep of chickens
A pitying of turtledoves
A raft of ducks
A rafter of turkeys
A siege of herons
A skein of geese [in flight]
A sord of mallards
A spring of teal
A tidings of magpies
A trip of dotterel
An unkindness of ravens
A watch of nightingales
A wedge of swans [or geese, flying in a "V"]
A wisp of snipe

Anonymous said...

oh...that is amazing and keener than me...:)...thanks Tom!

larry white said...

What an exquisite observer Dorn is, you are so fortunate to have been his friend. The photos match well, as always. Delighted to read again the list of bird collectives, worth memorizing and observing their rightness.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Duty of the meadow lark:
ignore the wind (direction meaningless) organize everything later. Just see what happens in the other dimension over the "yellow stubble of the field...complexly and exhaustively, on the air, at that sleight..."

Duty of the crow: work with zero

Duty of Ed Dorn: all of the above

Susan Kay Anderson said...

I can't decide which one looks more like Ed, the inward craggy rainbow Northwest Crow (Corvus caurinus)at the Esquimault Lagoon or the distracting Sturnella neglecta, singing its heart out.
Both of the Edwardius Dornus species: building exhaltation, some unkindness, and falling, charming, building a dissimulation towards a kettle, a parliament.

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Here's to the murder, the flight, the muster and deceit in the wisp, the cast and bevy--

Anonymous said...

I love this, very much. The note, alongside the photos, in speaking so delicately and truly of birds, seems also to be speaking of us, the non-birds among us. But in a way you can't so readily identify -- all the better and appropriately, given the tendency of such things to take flight at a moment's notice. I will be mulling this over for a while, I suspect.

TC said...


I did remember your joy in those uplifting prairie larks, in putting this together.


Those are indeed the duties -- not forgetting of course that working with zeroes also means working with ones and twos. Duty in the old Roman sense of "office". Office hours, every blesséd minute in the world.


" speaking so delicately and truly of birds, seems also to be speaking of us, the non-birds among us."

That double speaking seems to me the source of much of the beauty of the piece. The elation of the larks and the mathematical abilities (data-entry skills) of the counting crows do subtly suggest fabular aspects in the tale; which nonetheless equally remains a small marvel of close observation of nature.

There are free spirited dazzling low-fliers in the human world too, but "progress" would seem latterly to have designated the (human) bean counters for (d)evolutionary preference.

Marcia said...

Thank you for posting this today, Tom. I love meadowlarks and miss seeing them and hearing their beautiful song which everyone I knew used to say sounded like "I want a sweet potato." Crows were a little less loved, but still a part of the world I once knew.

TC said...

Lovely to hear from you always, Marcia.

Yes, the wonderful meadowlarks of the prairies, so much easier to like than the crows.

But -- "all part of God's creation," as folks used to say.

(That was, I guess, back in the day when "God" still meant Nature and not a big shiny scaffolding for Republican fatcats to hang their foaming-at-the-gills political agendas on -- or from?).

TC said...

Something tells me the clever and extremely bossy city crow has a sensitive side and can tell when it is being disrespected.

Ever since I typed the words " much easier to like than the crows", the crows here have been going bonkers in the upper tiers of the redwood, squawking their brains out in the general direction of the freeway-feeder rush hour traffic, us, and civilisation in general. As is their wont.

(Though of course, they do this every morning, whether suffering deleterious comparisons or no.)