Sat June 25, 2011

Mountain Man's Song For A Tower Gone Wrong

"I mean, this is sort of a dramatic bag," says Dave Willard. "It feels like a block of ice, and what it is is a block of dead thrushes."

Willard is an ornithologist at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, which houses one of the world's largest collections of bird specimens. It's where many of the migratory birds that die mid-journey are taken to be preserved. The frozen thrushes — along with several hundred other dead songbirds — were picked up and stuffed into bags outside the small Minnesota town of Baudette.

Baudette sits on the US-Canadian border, about as far north in the continental U.S. as you can get, and is famous for snowy winters and a giant concrete walleye that sits downtown. It's also home to a massive Coast Guard tower, built to guide people across and around the Great Lakes. The tower has long been decommissioned, but it remains an imposing presence — especially for the birds who pass through the area on the way to their northern breeding grounds.

In the latest installment of their Song+Stories series, Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister of Long Haul Productions visited Baudette — and the tower — to find out just how so many birds ended up in the Field Museum's freezer. As always, they collaborated with a musical artist to help tell the story: Check out the exclusive original song "Vision," written and performed by the cheekily named all-female trio Mountain Man.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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