Birds, bees and battles
A couple of weeks ago I got a phone call out of the blue. On the other end was a friend from Grand Forks - Tim Driscoll - informing me that he and Dr. Robert Rosenfield were coming to West Fargo to band a family of Cooper's hawks in Elmwood Park and asking if I'd like to join them. Always ready for an adventure, I said I would. Joining us were Tim's brother, Chuck and his wife Gayle - the original finders of the nest - along with their son, Eric. We four West Fargoans were eager to watch the banding process.
Rosenfield, an NDSU graduate, is recognized as one of the world's foremost authorities on Cooper's hawks, with numerous published studies and thousands of birds banded. He teaches at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point.
"Originally, the goal was conservation because the bird was listed as a threatened species," said Rosenfield. "It turned out the bird was thriving so we answered our conservation question about status. But then my curiosity as a scientist was piqued about a variety of other objectives." That curiosity has led him down a long fruitful road where he's now in his 29th year of studying the bird.
After setting up the netting and placing Rosenfield's live owl on a nearby perch, our entire group waited for the action. It didn't take long for the male to see the owl, a perceived threat. Diving in to scare off the owl, the Cooper's hawk was netted. With skilled and practiced hands, Rosenfield brought the bird over to Tim and the process of measuring, assessing and banding was under way.
Rosenfield next climbed the tree to the nest and retrieved five healthy chicks which were brought down and banded as well. A short time later the last of the family - the female - was netted.
Rosenfield reckons he is successful capturing hawks about 70 to 80 percent of the time. He said, "With brand new birds I've got a real good shot." But with birds that have been previously banded his odds diminish "depending on the disposition of the birds."
Over the next two days, Rosenfield and Driscoll caught and banded 17 adult Cooper's hawks and 37 young in the Grand Forks area as part of their ongoing research. Driscoll has helped Rosenfield in the Red River Valley area since they met in 2004. "I knew it was going to be cool but I had no idea," said Driscoll. "I helped him set up the net. Pretty soon I was holding birds and doing stuff and, well, that was it, I was hooked."
My wife motioned me over to the corner of the house the other day with some concern in her voice. "We've got bees," she said. Sure enough, a single bee was going in and out of a small crease in our siding. But curiously, it was carrying bits of leaves into the hole. With a little research and a fading memory of a late 70s entomology class, I determined this to be one of the leafcutter bees.
Unlike its colonial cousin, the honeybee, a leafcutter bee is solitary. A single female will construct a nest, usually in a hollow of rotted wood. Each cell is then lined with nearly circular pieces of leaves creating a cocoon-like structure where a single egg is laid.
I've seen its neatly carved handiwork on rose leaves. Other plant species are used as well, such as lilac and green ash.
I have no plans to rid my residence of the bee. It is a native insect and an important pollinator. Not only that, it stings only when handled and it's much less painful than that of a honeybee or yellow jacket. Plus it's fun to watch.
I wondered why butterflies have been so scarce this year. I don't think I've seen one for over a week. Is it possible the aggressive spraying being done to battle mosquitoes has anything to do with it?
Reassuringly, that's not likely according to Patrick Beauzay, a research specialist in NDSU's Extension Entomology Department. "It might be possible but I don't think there is any evidence to support that," said Beauzay.
But he did back up my claim of butterfly scarcity. Beauzay travels the area quite a bit in his field work and has noticed a lack of the insect also. "I haven't seen a lot of butterflies anywhere," he said. "I think the long, cold spring contributed to high mortality in the larvae. It just might not be a good year for them."