William L. Dawson was an unparalleled wordsmith when it came to birds. Many have sung songs of adulation and worship for him…I say we are right to do so. If I had the power, I would see him rise from the dead to go birding with me all the time, simply for company and to give a running narration of the birds we see. It would be a deeply enriching experience. Who else could conjure up such a passage for the humble Say’s Phoebe?
A GENTLE MELANCHOLY possesses the soul of all Pewees, and Sayornis sayus is the most desponding of the lot. It is impossible to guess what ancestral hardship could have stamped itself so indelibly upon any creature with wings. Perhaps the bird is haunted by the memory of that northern Eden once obliterated by the ice-sheet. Perhaps alkaline waters are bad for little livers. I do not know. Your guess is as good as mine. Choooory kuteew. This “choory” note, heard on a gray day in December, puts one in the same mental attitude as that induced by the modest mewing of a cat. I want to stop and stroke its head, and say in sympathetic falsetto, “Poor little kittens!”
– William L. Dawson
Thanks for sharing that. Yeah, birding with him would have been quite the experience!
What a great passage. Where’s it from?
I can think of a few ornithologist writers I’d like to have come back and bird with me. It’s a fun thought.
Frank, it’s from The Birds of California.
We used to love those books on the Farallones- I’ve quoted his remarks on the Western Gull here before.