"In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love," wrote British poet Alfred Lord Tennyson in his work titled, Locksley Hall. Indeed there is something about the slightly warming weather, the ever longer days, and the slow greening of the landscape which stirs the hearts of not only young men, but young organisms of all types. I couldn't help but be reminded of this particular line of prose over the course of the past few weeks. During the depths of winter, scarcely a bird vocalizes.
The other day I received an email with an attached video showing scenes of a crow and a house cat frolicking and carrying on in a playful and friendly manner. Strange as it would seem, these two normally antagonistic creatures were boldly defying nature in a peaceful, even affectionate, fashion. Or at least defying nature as we typically recognize it. It doesn't stop here however. A quick search shows all sorts of strange pairings having been captured on video, from an orangutan with a dog, to a lioness cavorting with a young antelope of all things.
Just for fun, let's say we've been asked to manufacture a bird species using a list of certain characteristics, as if something like this were possible. Our orders say the animal must be small and gentle, it must be fairly tame, it must possess a wide vocal repertoire, it must be easy on the eyes using only shades of blacks and whites, it must get along well with others, it must appear readily at our feeders, it must be in the business of warning others of danger, it must range over a large area, and it must be easily recognizable.
Every now and then, we all need reminding as to just what it was that led us here in the first place, and why we love what we do. Over time, we tend to lose track of those first few occasions when the fever-pitch of excitement caused our hearts to thump; we forget those moments when we decided this was something we wanted to do. Last weekend I received just such a lesson from an unlikely source: a 10-year-old boy. A neighbor has a son, Joe, who exhibits a preternatural interest in the outdoors, especially birds.
It was thought by many experts that the record would never be broken; the human body just cannot accomplish such a feat, a four-minute mile is not possible they said. Then on May 6, 1954, British runner Roger Bannister did the unthinkable on an Oxford track by clocking the mile run in 3:59.4. Having once broken through this mostly psychological fence, countless others quickly followed. In a similar fashion the local Christmas Bird Count (CBC) faced a seemingly unbeatable barrier of sorts.
Christmas shopping has never been a strong area for me. I'm not entirely sure why, it just happens to be that way. I think the hype and hustle of the season blur my ability to reason clearly and I end up buying something spontaneously, something a little odd, or - worst of all - something unwanted. I need concise straightforward hints or it becomes an iffy roll of the dice. That said let me offer some insight for those struggling to find a gift for the bird watcher in the family, something I know a little about. Maybe she's a niece, a cousin, a sister, daughter, or just a friend.
We are under an invasion. Unlike Orson Welles' 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel, War of the Worlds, this one is real and it's coming from the north. There is little we can do to stop it, but like the harmless romp Welles's program turned out to be, this current invasion is relatively harmless, too. That is unless you happen to be a small furbearer, a primary food source for snowy owls (Nyctea scandiaca). The movement of a bird species following the breeding season into areas beyond their normal range is more properly labeled an irruption.
We may not hear it but it's evident among the drifts of dried and fallen leaves. It's readily apparent in the icy sheets forming and flowing along the local rivers. Its signature is also inked in the purple skies of early winter. This dynamic yet enigmatic essence I'm describing is nothing less than the ever beating pulse found in the world around us. Call it the rhythm of nature. While musicians of all stripes immerse themselves intimately in the tempo of their work, nature does the same thing only on the very grandest of scales, one large enough to encompass the entire planet actually.
Just by happenstance - I call it luck - I live in the same West Fargo neighborhood as North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologist, Doug Leier. Not only have we watched each other's children grow through the years, but we've shared many outdoors stories. They're often a little unconventional; such was the case just last week. Leier recounted a recent episode near my home where an American bittern had taken up residence in the yard of a neighbor for a few days.
Remove the leaves from trees and all manner of secrets are exposed to the world. Secrets which had been hidden for the summery months in the dappled verdant bosom of leaf canopy now lay bare and vulnerable to chilly autumn winds. Case in point is the abandoned American goldfinch nest in a tree alongside my driveway. Just weeks ago it was a shielded and shadowy place ideal for the purpose of quietly raising young. Its smallish cottony cup was well-placed in a branch crook and meant to catch the attention of nothing but doting goldfinch parents.