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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.
According to the Farmer's Almanac, the sun rose today in West Fargo at 8:11, a minute later than it did on December 21, the shortest day of calendar year 2008. Wait a minute, you say, the days are supposed to be getting longer. They are. Today's sun is shining 15 minutes more than the winter solstice. But it's doing it with later sunsets, not earlier sunrises at the moment. According to WDAY meteorologist, Daryl Ritchison, this is due to something called the Equation of Time, a somewhat complex concept I won't address here.
We made it. Christmas is finally here. Today we can all take a step back, breathe a sigh of relief, and wonder how we made it through the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. The baking, the gift buying, the card sending, the church services, the office parties, and the trips to grandma's house culminate in this one special day. It's a high point on the Christian calendar and a crescendo for all. Somewhere among the pile of presents and wrapping paper is likely an item which appears to be growing in popularity every year, the gift card.
I'm not exactly sure of Ron Pittaway's background other than he's from Ontario and he is (apparently) a field ornithologist. What I am sure about is his forecasting skills. For the past several years Pittaway has put out a prognostication for the upcoming winter by compiling data from a number of sources then computing a best-guess estimate.
I had never heard of a Sinaloa wren. I have now. On August 25, two individuals birdwatching in an area of southern Ariz., happened upon this creature and recorded its image as well as its voice. Making this find so spectacular is the fact that it had never been seen in the U.S. before. Immediately the word spread via the Internet to the delight of rarity seekers across the country. From this episode, remember one thing. This was a lone bird. Stumbling upon a rare species is an infrequent side benefit of the hobby most bird enthusiasts treat with giddy anticipation.
Time spent as an aviator has afforded me ample opportunity to visit many parts of the western hemisphere, even live in some of them. Being a natural history buff, one overarching question I often ask myself when in a new location is: What did the area look like before settlement? A particular site nags at me to this day. I would treasure a view of the Columbia River before dams tamed the giant roaring beast. Second on the list is right here, the Red River Valley.
There was a time in the not-too-distant past when a clear distinction between good and bad, right and wrong, and friend and foe was evident. In virtually every western movie a line was drawn between the ne'er-do-wells and the heroes. Sports legends were just that, legends. The likes of Mickey Mantle or Ty Cobb were treated as celebrities worthy of our admiration and praise. Even Walt Disney played a role with his fanciful narrated tales of charming furry critters a movie-goer would be hard-pressed to dislike. In a way it was easier. There was no thinking involved.
Put down this paper for a moment and picture a time when you witnessed large flocks of migratory birds. Maybe it's snow geese, sandhill cranes, Franklin's gulls or even cedar waxwings. Now try and insert woodpeckers into that image. Somehow it just doesn't register for most of us. You see, nearly all of the woodpeckers in North America (there are 22 species north of Mexico) are considered non-migratory. That is, the birds are content to sit out winters in place foraging in trees for the necessary sustenance keeping them alive.