August 1, 2014
There is a single shorebird on Smuggler’s Beach. It is larger than a peep, and its breast and stomach are bright white. It races along the shoreline, stopping suddenly to jerk its beak into the sand and probe for food.
The sanderling is a wavechaser. When a wave breaks, it seizes its chance to rush forward onto the wet sand left in the ocean’s wake and forage for invertebrates that may have been washed up onto the beach. The hapless bird must be quick because its time is limited. To the dismay of the sanderling, another wave soon hurdles towards the shore with a vengeance and the shorebird is forced to race back towards the safety of higher ground. And then, within moments, it is again engrossed in the debris left by the retreating wave. I am sure that this routine is serious business to the sanderling. After all, it is such a small bird that a good size wave could easily overwhelm it. But in my eyes, the antics of the tiny shorebird are nothing short of a delight. The manner in which the sanderling runs back and forth, back and forth, over and over again is nothing short of hilarious. I do not understand how anyone could watch one of these wavechasers without laughing. My heart is nothing short of elated from such a whimsical show of naivety.
Yet even though the antics of the sanderling are hysterical, they are also admirable. When I try to imagine running headlong into a wave over and over again to grab my food I can realize the bravery of this little bird. It is incredibly patient. And there is a whole other dimension to its life that lies far beyond this tiny stretch of beach: the sanderling is a long- distance migrant. The eight-inch bird can travel over 6,000 miles in a single season. When I try to imagine accomplishing such a feat, on a scale adjusted for a seventy-inch human….truly, the sanderling is nothing short of remarkable. I aspire to travel like that sanderling. If it can do it, so can I.
*The "Watson" is a post-graduate fellowship. Recipients are given $28,000 to pursue their passion internationally the year immediately after graduation,. I made it to the final round of the application process, but ultimately did not receive the fellowship. Had I won, I would have gone to Norway, South Africa, Peru, Australia, Japan, and Canada to see and draw as many birds as I could with the greater goal of one day seeing and drawing all 10,000. Fellowship or not, I am going to do this anyway.