It was the piping plover that interested me, this bird's precarious hold in Minnesota, and the where and why, the who and how of efforts to keep this species on our landscape.
The story is told in "Wild and Rare, " a book about the optimism that can be created when concern promotes hard work.
The book is an exploration of Minnesota and adjoining states, places near and far that are home to 10-plus endangered species of animals, plants and insects.
The subtitle is "Tracking Endangered Species in the Upper Midwest."
The stories told by author Adam Regn Arvidson are about the dwarf trout lily, three mussel species, the plover, Leedy's roseroot, bush clover, the Poweshiek skipperling and the Dakota skipper (butterflies), Canada lynx, Western fringed prairie orchid, Topeka shiner (fish), and the gray wolf.
Some of these you might see with luck and effort. Others, like the mussels, are out of reach, or in the case of the skipperling butterfly, to be seen today only at the Minnesota Zoo. Efforts are being made there to reintroduce this creature to the state.
Humans and their dominance over almost everything everywhere are basic to all of the stories.
The plover story is particularly familiar to me. I have the bird on my list of birds I've seen in the state, but don't remember exactly where I saw it. I doubt if I've seen it here more than once. I have seen it in Texas on one of the sandy Gulf beaches there.
In Minnesota, the beach would be on Lake of the Woods. Don't try. A small population to begin with was down to two birds seen during a 2011 census. Plovers don't share well. They need undisturbed habitat.
Once they also nested on a dredge island in the Duluth harbor. No more.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lists the plover as endangered in the Great Lakes area and threatened elsewhere.
The plovers nest along sandy river shores in South Dakota and North Dakota, along other Great Lakes beaches, and on the Atlantic coast. If you wanted to see one, sandy Missouri River beaches in southeastern South Dakota are places to look.
(For more information on the plover go to sdakotabirds.com/species/piping_plover_info.htm)
The author makes exploratory trips for each of these species. He is an observant traveler, and excellent with questions for the experts with whom he travels. He follows the caretakers who are trying to save or increase each of the populations so much at risk.
Arvidson, a nonfiction writer and architect living in Minneapolis, has given us an important book — a wildlife book, a travel book, a geography book, a science book, all stories well told.
Species rarely reach endangered status overnight. Change can be so slow that it goes unnoticed.
"The Poweshiek Skipper was an unremarkable butterfly," says zoo conservation biologist Erik Lundquist, quoted in the book, "until it remarkably disappeared."
Arvidson brings change to our attention .
(The book was published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Hardcover, 320 pages, photos and drawn illustrations, index, bibliography. $22.95. mnhspress.org.)
Read Jim Williams' birding blog at startribune.com/wingnut.