Just a couple weeks ago an interesting little story caught my eye on the front page of the Forum. Dave Olson's piece described a certain peregrine falcon which had spent the night in south Fargo, presumably on its way to its nesting area on Baffin Island. But what made it intriguing was the fact that this bird - nicknamed Sparrow King - was fitted with a small GPS transceiver. Therefore its whereabouts, from winter grounds in Chile to its nest site in the Arctic, is easily ascertained. The tools available to the biological sciences keep growing every day it seems.
Several years ago I read a published journal written by Maj. Stephen Long, an Army officer stationed at Ft. Snelling, Minnesota. The book was a vivid description of his 1823 exploration up the Minnesota River and down the Red River, ending at Fort Garry (near present day Winnipeg). I ended up loaning out the book to someone and haven't seen it since. But I do recall one particular piece of information which I found intriguing. Near the party's passage of what would be the future Fargo area, Long sent out a scout to report on a river on the Dakota side of the Red. It was the Sheyenne River.
Now that we seem to have put the bulk of winter behind us, we can all look toward spring with welcome expectation. Hip pocket indicators abound, hinting of seasonal change. Some seek the first robin, others might use the first thunderstorm as the sign. A tulip poking up certainly works, as does the first pass through the field with the plow. For birders, the arrival of snow geese gets the blood pulsing and western meadowlarks singing on fence posts is welcome music to the ears. But nothing quite excites the senses as much as the arrival of a group of neotropical migrants known as warblers.
Take a look at a map of the local area and a person finds quite a few towns situated along or near a flowing piece of water. The reason is obvious. The early settlers needed a ready water source. Plus the coal-fired steam locomotives couldn't move without steady water supplies. So rivers and streams were seen as a critical necessity. Today it's somewhat different. The towns are still around of course, but we see our rivers from somewhat different perspectives. Currently, they are sources of much anxiety as most have left their banks and are dangerously wandering overland.
The day of September 11, 2001 was surreal. When images and sounds of the terrorist attacks on our nation began to stream across every available world media outlet, we were all stunned. But "stunned" doesn't even begin to depict the range of emotions felt by every American and every world citizen. Future generations will even have a sense of that day as we will surely pass to our children and grandchildren descriptions, feelings, and explanations of just what occurred. I was out of town that day with other National Guard personnel.
Leaf through the journals of Lewis and Clark and a person cannot help but be struck by a number of things. Mainly, the meticulous recordkeeping by the Corps of Discovery as it laboriously trekked across our continent and back, greatly expanding our understanding of this vast land and opening it up to possibilities yet imagined and to a young nation yet unfulfilled. Lesser noticed perhaps is the simple matter of spelling. Our heroes penned many hundreds of pages containing many thousands of words. Yet the actual spelling is nearly comical by modern standards.
We can loosely separate the diurnal (daytime) raptors into three groups. First are the soaring hawks (buteos) and eagles. We've all seen them. They are the large-bodied ones with the long, broad, rounded wings soaring and circling above mostly open landscapes. Next are the falcons. Known for their streamlined appearance, these are birds which display speed and agility on pointed wings. The contrast between these two groups is roughly similar to that between long-range bombers and fighter jets. The third group, known as accipiters, is curious.
Easily the most studied animals on the planet are we humans. As a species, we've been picked at, poked, and prodded for centuries. You'd think by now we'd know everything there is to know. Yet every day science or medicine seems to announce some sort of discovery regarding the human body and its intricate workings. This should bring to mind one overriding notion. That is, let's ease up on the silly idea that we have anything more than a hint of understanding of the natural world. A little less hubris is in order. We've got a long way to go.
In keeping with human nature, we sort, rank, and categorize nearly everything in our lives. It serves to keep ideas neat and orderly giving us at least the notion that we have some control of it all. In politics, there are Democrats and Republicans, in our laundry basket we sort whites from colors, for trees we broadly separate conifers (needled trees) from their deciduous (leaf dropping) cousins. There is, of course, any number of subsets into which such entities could be placed. Take birds for example.
It was the 25th day of November, 1985. I know because I wrote it down. As a young lieutenant in the Air Force, I was assigned to the 325th Bombardment Squadron at an air base near Spokane, Wash. Our crew was busy mission planning for a flight the next day when I noticed a small dark blur pass by the window and appear to land in a lone spruce tree. Excusing myself and donning my cap, I stepped outside for a closer look before coming face to face with the first northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus) I had seen. Each encounter since has been similar.