My earliest memory of western grebes (Aechmophorus occidentalis) comes not from personal observation but rather from television in the late 1960s. I recall being a rather young child and watching film footage of the spectacular courtship dance of these dynamic water birds. It could have been a National Geographic special, a Disney show, or Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. It doesn't really matter I suppose, the point is it had a lasting impact.
Just last week my wife and I left town on a short vacation. When I tell people we went to Arizona they think I'm crazy but that's a topic for another day.
On Monday I went to see a friend of mine who lives on a beautiful piece of rural property near Felton, Minn. In the minutes spent catching up and visually taking in his garden and yard, I marveled at the diversity of bird species present. With little effort I noted 23 species in less than an hour. Of those, 21 are likely nesting there. Contrast that with my yard in the middle of West Fargo where, in 22 years, we've totaled about six nesting species. Apparent in this comparison is a loud message regarding habitat, but I'll save that for another day.
Out of my mouth came one simple query a week and a half ago, 'Hey, who wants to see a Say's phoebe on a nest?' What followed was a humbling lesson on every level. For the third consecutive year I was asked to help lead tours for the Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival in Carrington. It's becoming my routine to set aside that June week, assisting the overworked but committed organizers of this wonderful annual event, its 11th year just completed.
Challenges facing the home landscaper are many -- what to plant, where to plant, how to plant, when to plant. Once in place, there is the ongoing task of maintaining what is already in the ground, which comes with its own set of hardships like diseases and insects. In addition, animals often wreak their toothy brand of mischief on our pricy plantings. Beavers, deer, mice, rabbits, voles, and other chewers keep us constantly looking for ways to thwart them.
Last winter was an exceptional one around here for northern species. Finches and owls normally encountered far to our north were found locally in impressive numbers. One particularly rare species—boreal owl (Aegolius funereus)—made an unprecedented showing in North Dakota with about seven reports sprinkled up and down the Red River Valley and farther west (read about the day spent looking for a boreal owl in the January 30 edition of the Pioneer).
It seems I go through this mental exercise every spring, wondering where all the robins are going. Just outside the room where our home computer rests, stands a mature crabapple. Unlike some varieties, this tree is largely ignored by fruit-eating birds during the fall and winter months and usually comes into spring with a decent load of fruit. Whatever slow metabolic processes are taking place in crabapple fruit -- fermentation, sugar changing form, cellular breakdown, etc.-- it seems to take this tree exceptionally long to become palatable to birds.
Last Saturday was such a beautiful day the urge to get out and walk around was overwhelming. Given all the early migratory birds being spotted across the state, it was doubly so. After meeting up with a bird watching friend from Fargo, we headed out with no clearly defined plan. But it didn’t matter, we were outside.
It was almost a month ago when, upon suffering a bad case of cabin fever, I ventured out for a walk in and around Armour Park in West Fargo. The first significant snow of the season had recently fallen, which made foot travel difficult but not impossible. So intent was I to simply get out of the house and do something, anything, that snow depth was almost meaningless.