American Birding Podcast



Share Your Birds-and-Eclipse Stories

“Oh. Oh! Wow! Part of the sun is missing! It’s not there! This is for real. Stop the car!”

Left to right: Andrew Floyd, Hannah Floyd, and Jack Solomon ponder an eclipse of the sun. Platte County, Wyoming, USA, Aug. 21, 2017.

We’re in Platte County, Wyoming, population 9,000. This is the sort of place where you can drive for miles without seeing another car. But today it is the world’s largest tailgate party. We creep along for another mile or so, finally spotting an opening in a gully by a cattle guard.

“The whole world is here,” someone in my party declares. True enough: Our gullymates are from Munich and Baton Rouge. The Münchner are especially gregarious, and we get to talking about the handful of birds in the sorry-looking windbreak across the way: ein Sperling und eine Taube (a Chipping Sparrow and a Mourning Dove). Nobody can figure out how to say kingbird (Western) and phoebe (Say’s), and we all get a chuckle out of Grashüpfer. Speaking of which, they and their kin—Grillen und eine Zikade—are going off. They know, in their own way, that something big is going down.

Totality is even better than advertised. According to one of my traveling companions, experiencing the eclipse “was like looking into a black hole, the dark and fathomless eye of an angry Old Testament god about to smite you. His white, wispy hair was, in the form of the sun’s corona, floating around the bottomless pit of the eye. Awesome, amazing, transformational. The image of totality will remain with me till I die.”

Two hundred miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic? It’s all good.

What he said. But I have to say that something else was even more striking than staring straight into the heart of what looked freakily similar to a black hole and its accretion disk. I’m talking about the humans. For two minutes we held our collective breath. You could hear the proverbial pin drop. All of us—the chatterbox Germans, the cigarette-smoking Louisianans, my own party of sundry goofballs, and everybody else out there—stood together in awe and wonder. It was like being in church—an old-fashioned church service where nobody says a word.

Getting home took forever. We finally pulled into the driveway at 7:30. Do the math. I have to say, though, that the 200-mile traffic jam put me in good spirits. There’s something deep and powerful about the idea that all those people traveled all that distance to accomplish, in a very real sense, absolutely nothing.

This Say’s Phoebe poses in the weird, diffuse light a bit before the onset of totality. The bird seems to be surveying the vast throng of humans witnessing the eclipse. What is your eclipse story?

It’s funny—At dinner the night before, we were joking about the meaning of life. Well, I think we figured it out during totality: Put 10,000 perfect strangers out in a field in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming. Do that often enough, and I’m pretty sure world peace would follow. Shakespeare saw it. In his play Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare makes a character say, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

The eclipse was two days ago, but I know it’s still fresh on our minds. What was it like where you were? For starters, did you see or hear any birds? Did you notice any curious behaviors? And who were your human companions? What were they like? Let’s talk about it. In one sense, the conversation won’t accomplish a thing. But who knows: Maybe sharing our experiences together will nudge us just a bit closer to world peace and the meaning of life.