Rare things often become valued far beyond any actual importance or usefulness they might offer. It’s certainly the case with gem stones, but also holds true with a wide array of other things from old books to strange little salt and pepper shakers. It’s also a factor in what we value in nature.
Nature lovers often spend a great deal of time seeking that rare flower or bird whether it’s truly a rare species or just an unusual color in an otherwise common species that sometimes occurs. There’s genuine excitement and pleasure when we come across those rarities, too. I always stop when I notice a single mutant white bluebell in a large patch of blue ones. Sometimes we even protect them by law as in the case of rare white deer in Iowa. This spring has gifted me with a number of rare sighting experiences, and I’m thankful for the moments of delight that they have provided.
Several uncommon migrant bird species have brightened a few days in recent weeks. They included shorebirds like the Hudsonian Godwit, White Faced Ibis, and Wilson’s Phalarope as well as some less common sparrows like the Clay Colored Sparrow and the Lincoln’s Sparrow. Several other songbirds fit the rare and unusual description even though they nest here in Iowa and I’ve seen them before. It’s just that I seldom see them. The Philadelphia Vireo is a regular migrant and the Warbling Vireo nests here, but they’re very drab in coloration and spend most of their time in the tops of forest trees well concealed by foliage. Getting a clear view of one long enough to identify it makes seeing them uncommon and special. Eastern Towhees are birds of the deep forest, but having one in our yard for a few days was an unusual delight.
Sometimes the situation makes a sighting memorable rather than the particular rarity of what is being seen. That would be the case when I was able to watch a bright male Baltimore Oriole and an Indigo Bunting at feeders during our freak May snowstorm. I have seen and enjoyed loons up North for many years, but a particular loon chorus I shared with my son on a wilderness lake several years ago will always stand out in my memory. We were sitting by our fire at an island campsite as the sun set following a thunderstorm. There was a rainbow against the clouds in the east. Half a dozen loons gathered in a tight group facing each other out on the lake and began to sing together. Their calls echoed across the lake for several minutes. Although the choir broke up as the sun set, one of the most memorable concerts of my life will never be forgotten.
Just the other night, we were invited to a friend’s house for some cards. While standing in their driveway, we noticed what appeared to be a vireo high in their old Hackberry tree. While trying to identify that, I noticed what appeared at first to be a bright orange oriole also high up in the tree. Sunset light heighted the bird’s brilliance. Seeing an oriole during spring is always nice, but not that memorable. Then I notice that the bird’s head was bright orange, too, rather than the normal black. What had seemed common and unexceptional suddenly became quite unique and different. It didn’t seem to match any of the orioles in the book; even the orange-headed ones of the Southwest that should not be present in Iowa. Then my friend noted that his bird book said Scarlet Tanagers occasionally appear with an orange color variant, known as a morph. We grabbed our cameras to record the moment. The photos we took by zooming to the maximum with our digital cameras aren’t of publishing quality, but they captured a uniquely beautiful bird I may never see again. I saw a normal Scarlet Tanager the next day and paused to admire his beauty. Tanagers aren’t all that common in our area and are always exciting to see. Beautiful as he was, though, he couldn’t match that fire orange morph I’d seen the night before. The unusual orange bird was rare and will be a valued memory.