A Million Reasons: The  Birds and Refuges Along the Pacific Flyway.



For over a decade I've photographed the wetlands, the marshy retreats, and the flooded fields through California, Oregon, New, Mexico, Montana and Alaska, following the Pacific flyway and fallen in love with the quiet backwaters, the mist filled mornings, the meandering rivulets, the flooded rice and wheat fields that are the wellspring of these Bedouin birds, who if you can catch the moment, fill the sky, the fields and nearby the ponds appearing as abundant as snow flakes. And there is no symphony more beautiful than the sound of ten thousand beating wings lifting off the water.



Like all transitory life, these birds are here and then gone. What remains is  the forgotten marshland and all the life that resides there to support this great migration. I have been drawn to these places by their quiet beauty and by the life they hold. When I began the language I brought an infant’s. Water, bird, tree and sky. An undifferentiated whole. Over the years I have learned to specify, to name teal  and eider, grebe and trumpeter. Yet something in the naming steals, or rather, shrinks my vision. I still prefer the undifferentiated whole.  The ribbon dance across the sky, the undulating pattern of flight and the distant gaze as this passing life slips into the infinite.



Writer Charles Finn and I began collaborating on a book combining his words with my images. For more information please contact Barbara Michelman.





A Million Reasons: The  Birds and Refuges Along the Pacific Flyway.



The Pacific Flyway is a major north-south flyway for one of the last and most spectacular wildlife events in North America, the biannual migration of birds from Alaska to Patagonia. Every year, millions—literally millions— of birds, many of them endangered, travel some or all of this distance in spring and fall, following food sources, heading to breeding grounds, or traveling to overwintering sites. But these birds are only a fraction of those that used the flyway a century ago. Some species, such as the Black-footed Albatross and the Least Tern, are in serious trouble, and even many common birds, such as the Western Sandpiper, have become far less common. Habitat loss, water shortages due to diversion for agriculture and development, diminishing food sources, and climate change all threaten the birds of the Pacific Flyway.  But there is hope.


Like a series of rest stops and filling stations along a highway, thousands of acres in dozens of wildlife refuges in three Canadian Providences and eight of the western United States, including Montana, have been set aside to aide these birds in their migration. Most importantly, and often forgotten, is that together these refuges, each one vastly ecologically different, function as one habitat, and while a pristine habitat in one area along a migration route is a blessing, it means nothing if another section is degraded or destroyed. This simple fact, the interconnectedness of all things, is at the heart of our project.


Historically these refuges were set aside because hunters were losing their prey and their sport. Too often the refuge system became de facto bird farms and to a large extent still are. In recent years systems-thinking in science became more important and the focus of wildlife and land management shifted with it.  Despite this, political and economic turf wars over land and water use, still dominate our national dialogue. Yet, if science is right, we stand on an environmental precipice and there are no more important philosophic questions for our time than–– what do we care about, what we do love and how do we value it? And is it appropriate to reduce all value in order to monetize it or indulge us our amusements? The historical thrust of American expansionism, “the pioneering spirit” and the primacy of rugged individualism needs to be reexamined in light of where we find ourselves,  because the dark side of that ideal has fed greed, rapaciousness and a callous disregard other living things .


There are no clear or simple answers about our collective future but when we learn to fall in love with the world again and turn our gaze in the service of life we begin to ask questions in a new way. When we question our own humanity, in the end what we salvage may not only be the things and places we love, but ourselves.