The nesting season is all but over for the vast majority of birds in the Northern Hemisphere. Many finished the business of gene perpetuation some months past. About a week ago, songbirds began to show movement away from territory, starting the process of migration. But for birders, the star attractions during this late summer lull have been shorebirds.
Type the word "birding" into the popular Google search engine and hit the enter key. The results show about nine million web pages available to users of the Internet. No one can possibly view them all. A recent survey conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says there are about 47.7 million birders in the country, or about one of every six of us. It's estimated this subgroup spent $36 billion in the most recent surveyed year pursuing their hobby; quite a little cash for a seemingly non-productive interest.
You are what you eat. Or at least that's what we've heard all our lives. Of course it's not meant in a literal sense. I don't consider myself a pizza although I indulge in the vegetable, meat, and cheese pies with some regularity. A quick Internet search of the phrase's origin reveals a 19th century French origin. We English borrowed it sometime later and it's come to represent the notion that food controls our health according to phrases.org.uk. Good enough. Every organism obviously depends upon a steady diet of whatever it is that keeps it going.
The concept itself can be identified as far back as Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War,' although he didn't use the term. It purportedly stemmed from WWI aviators. But it was air crew members fighting in Korea and Vietnam who are mainly given credit for mainstreaming the short phrase.
Collections mean things to people. I'm no psychologist but I suppose they represent order for folks; some way of making sense of disparate items by lumping them together in a tidy package. My neighbor has some Hummel's for instance. Walk into my mother's home and a person will find boxes of Precious Moments. People will collect just about anything and everything from matchbooks to classic cars. In a way, birdwatchers collect too. But it's normally in the form of lists (which I've addressed before in this space).
One of the appeals of destinations such as Yellowstone National Park is the better-than-even chance of seeing any of a number of spectacular species of wildlife amidst the backdrop of grandiose scenery. On any visit there a family might witness elk, moose, bison, gray wolves, or bighorn sheep. For things like grizzly bear or mountain lion the odds fall off rather quickly. Those animals - for various reasons - are quite a little more secretive. A similar scenario plays out with watching birds as well. There are the in-your-face species a person absolutely cannot miss.
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.