Imagine you are a bird. You've spent the spring and summer somewhere up north, raising young while safely avoiding predators and other dangers, but generally enjoying the warmth and nutritional bounty served up by the long, lazy days of sun. Now it's getting colder, the days much shorter, your family has dispersed, and food is getting harder to come by. There's this nagging notion you can't shake, something deep within your core says to go south, or at least somewhere else.
"These 'silverbacks' are the largest jackrabbits in the country," Carson said as we headed west out of Tucson and into mesquite desert habitat. He had carefully loaded his two Harris's hawks into the topped bed of his pickup while his labrador rode in front. Several miles later brought us to a suitable spot where we would spend the next couple of hours walking among the prickly desert scrub and witnessing the excitement of his southwestern hawks working their cooperative skills on the antelope jackrabbit.
Tempo and pacing, two words we run across in just about everything we do. Golfers understand it, as do baseball pitchers and runners. Musicians are keenly aware of these terms. Even economists and city planners talk of pacing. "Ops tempo" is a phrase used in the military to describe the pulse of activity. I was involved in the area's sugar beet harvest yet again this fall. The choreographed ballet that is the beet harvest runs up against obstacles aplenty, put down mainly by the vagaries of weather: Too wet, too cold, too hot.
The red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is about as common an airborne predator as there is. During the breeding season, this large soaring hawk can be found in just about any habitat from mainland Alaska to the tip of Florida, even down into Central America. For this reason, it's probably the most visually recognized bird of prey in this country. Even its voice is known to all.
February, 1980, marked a moment of some significance among the state's birders. This was a milestone. In Bismarck, North Dakota, the first official sighting of a house finch was recorded. Two months later Cass County got one too; on April 6, to be exact. The occasion was not unexpected, however. House finches, you see, were steadily and inexorably marching across the continent from both coasts. Originally a western species, house finches had been introduced to the east during the 1970s. So from both directions, the heartland filled in.
A recent stroll at an out-of-state park helped me realize just how fast the summer is coming to an end. While most tree leaves still hold their green color, somehow they look tired. Ragged, weather beaten and insect-chewed, they still are capable of synthesizing sugar, but their efficiency has been extremely curtailed. The grasses and forbs also are evidencing the change of season. Some are dried up completely, while others are fading and tipping over.
It began with a fellow named Joe who wondered, along with some of his neighbors in Petersburg, N. D., whether the owls they were seeing every night in town were something special. A decent photograph of the birds he took recently was e-mailed to the N.D. Game and Fish Department. Turns out, the birds were special. They were barn owls (Tyto alba). North Dakota is not exactly a hotbed of barn owl sightings, there being less than 20 in total. When found, the birds are typically alone and remain for very brief periods of time.
If Macklin Smith made the pilgrimage to the Black Hills of South Dakota you know it's something special. Really special. Mr. Smith, for those unaware, teaches poetry at the U. of Michigan. One of his other interests is birds. For him it's more than just an interest though. Smith has seen more bird species north of Mexico than any other person ever (880 at last report). When a rare bird shows up in the country, you can bet Smith is aware. It was the middle of July, and I was out of town.
Matt is a friend who lives on a nearby rural farmstead. He's not a farmer, mind you, but he and his wife prefer the quieter atmosphere of country living. It also allows her to keep her horses at home instead of boarding them somewhere else. During the few years they've lived out there, Matt has worked tirelessly to create a landscape favorable to themselves and to their animals. In doing so, they've cleared brush, planted numerous trees and maintained a large garden.
You'd think by now this whole flying thing would be figured out. It's not. Credit to the first great thinkers to ponder the possibility of manned flight goes to the venerable names we all learned, the Aristotles, the Galileos, the da Vincis, and others. That's only because they preserved their thoughts with written words and drawings. I'm confident the first humans to walk the earth also wondered and wished. With creatures all around them plying the air with moving wings, how could they not? Insects and bats were doing it.