Williamson: On exceptionalism, this one's for the birds


Last updated 4/13/2021 at 4:01pm

It comes as no surprise that the drought monitor maps continue to keep our area solidly in center of a puddle of the dreaded deep brown patches that forecasters designate as “D4 - Exceptional Drought.”

There are many situations where being labeled “exceptional” is positive.

“Those biscuits were exceptional!”

“What an exceptional novel.”

“She is a pianist with exceptional talent.”

But when it comes to drought, exceptional is what we don't want to be.

For those who don't share my own manic obsession with precipitation, here are the levels of drought recognized by the United States Drought Monitor: D0 is abnormally dry, D1 is moderate drought, D2 is severe drought, D3 is extreme drought, and D4 is, as we know all too well, exceptional drought.

And that is why I am happy to have a curve-billed thrasher in my yard this spring.

What difference does a brown bird with fierce orange eyes make during a drought?

A big one.

This is nesting season, so each morning for the past several weeks, my resident male curve-billed thrasher has perched in the highest bare branches of the mulberry tree in my front yard to let any female in listening range (present company included) know what a fine fellow he is.

The Sibley Guide to Birds describes its voice this way: “Song rather harsh, crisp, and hurried with many short, sharp notes such as quit-quit and weet; more rattling or trilled phrases than other thrashers (e.g. kitkitkitkitkit). Call a very distinctive sharp, liquid whistle wit-WEET-wit; also a sharp, dry pitpitpitpit and a low, harsh chuck.”

That's not what I hear at all.

I don't hear “harsh” or “hurried.” I hear bright, happy, and hopeful.

I am reminded that the lilacs are blooming and the fruit trees are budding.

The curve-billed thrasher sings of mates to be wooed and nests to be built and eggs to be laid and offspring to be fledged.

More than a half century's worth of thrashers have serenaded me from this same tree.

Even as the wind rises and the horizons blur with dust, the thrasher stands tall and trills that age-old promise of new life.

Know what I'd call that?

Of course, you do.


Take that, you darned ol' drought.

Betty Williamson is grateful for her daily front row seat at the concert. Reach her at:

[email protected]


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