"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on." So wrote William Shakespeare in the third act of Othello. A simpler, more watered-down and easier to understand modern version goes: "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." It afflicts us all at one time or another I suppose - that feeling of jealousy. Or at least a certain desire for something else; something we don't have.
This brings us to the point. Birders are a loose collection of folks from varying backgrounds representing every income level. But as I've gotten into the birding hobby, I've come to note a particular level of envy among its adherents. A common thread among them is the desire to be somewhere else with "better" birds. It afflicts me too. It's not easy to sit here in the middle of winter seeing the same birds over and over while places like Brownsville, Texas are tallying up rare birds from Mexico. Some of us locals even refer to the Red River Valley as the "black desert," a phrase which captures the rich farmland and, simultaneously, the lack of birds most of the year.
Not all birders are affected. There are many who find enjoyment merely savoring the winged creatures that appear in back yards or at least nearby. But this level of contentment is not easy to achieve. You see, folks in Fargo speak of a desire to be in Bismarck to see all the water birds there; or in Dickinson to see western species that show up in the badlands. And those of us from North Dakota wish we could see the birds in North Carolina, or Arizona, or California, even Duluth.
Missing in all of this is perspective. And that's where the delicious irony which envy serves up in large doses gets weird. You see, birders from Bismarck and Dickinson wish they could be in Fargo to witness the great flocks of songbirds that pass through every May. And believe it or not, there are people from warmer southern states who are jealous of the snowy owl or the common redpoll, or the Bohemian waxwing we regularly see in winter. Folks from all over even make trips to the prairie pothole region of our state to take advantage of the immense number of nesting species in our grasslands.
Almost every location has its own set of attending critters unique to the particular habitat present there, including birds. But it seems the more a person learns or hears of other places, the sweeter they start to look.
I've set foot in 49 of the great 50 states in this grand republic of ours and lived in five of them (I've been 200 feet away from Alaska in a B-52, flying low-level, but that doesn't count as "setting foot."). I can honestly say that each one has something unique and interesting to offer. But for some reason, I keep coming back to North Dakota, the place of my birth and upbringing.
It's from here I and others struggle with the desire to go other places or see other birds. Just this past Sunday, in fact, I drove to Valley City to see a bird (yellow-crowned night-heron) I've never seen in the state. It's true; we don't have a huge number of birds here. Not compared to those other states mentioned. But what we do possess on the northern Great Plains is a unique landscape, one that captured the imagination of our forbearers and gave them a place to call home. Today we call it home. We just have to remind ourselves now and then that we get some pretty cool birds. Oh, and our grass is quite green too.