A Supremely Bad Idea

Luke Dempsey

A Supremely Bad Idea

“We would happily get such delights for the rest of the trip, but all would be for naught if we didn't find a particular and solitary bird, and a distant cousin of the violaceous trogon, the bird that the guy in Central America didn't want to see more than once.

The elegant trogon is a real rarity, one of those neotropical species whose northernmost range extends only to southeast Arizona, and then only at elevations above four thousand feet. It joins others like the aplomado falcon, flame-colored tanager, and boreal owl, to name just three, as the most coveted birds to see in all of North America. It has been claimed that up to twenty-five thousand people a year travel to Cave Creek Canyon, near Portal, to chase the elegant trogon (and other birds, of course). So popular is the trogon that according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, by the mid-1970s it was viewed as an 'important socioeconomic factor in the state.'

It's also damn beautiful. Cuckoo-sized, these magnificent birds boast a bright red lower breast, a gleaming white chest band, and a green head and back; they have long tails and a strong yellow beak. Best of all, according to Don, who once saw one in Costa Rica, they turn their heads so slowly as to make the movement almost imperceptible. It gives the bird an air of almost unanswerable superiority, like a nun in the classroom.”

As Shawn mentions in his article below, the book under consideration this month is a tale of birdwatching and travel, told by one of three friends who spend their vacations in search of the rare and the beautiful. Titled A Supremely Bad Idea, it's author Luke Dempsey's first book, and a very funny and thought-provoking one it is. It's also wonderfully written; consider this passage about some Arizona natives:

“Wezil's gifts to us this night continue. Later, farther down the hill, he brings us to a family of elf owls, which, at just over five inches each, are the smallest owls in the world (they're just a tiny bit smaller than a European starling). Hilariously squawking on a telegraph pole, they resemble misbehaving puppies; their little yelps even make them sound like tiny dogs.

The last gift is a less concrete one, and is not only of perception, but also of affection. To him we aren't strangers, we are part of a set of people for whom the natural world means more than being hired to do a job. Commerce can't compete with an owl who needs a bath, nor does it seem to mean all that much to a man who can show you where, on this entire planet, you can laugh at the antics of the smallest owls of all.

Subtitled Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See it All, this book is a treat for birders and non-birders alike. Be sure to read all about it!


Copyright 2009, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.