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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.
MacGillivray, Wilson, Swainson, Harris, Baird, Bonaparte and Bachman all share two common traits. First, these men of the early 19th century all have birds named in their honor. Secondly, all were known by one individual who was a shining light in the early days of American ornithology. His name was John James Audubon. What readers will find in a book titled, Under a Wild Sky, by William Souder, is a rollicking tale of adventure surrounding a near-mythical American figure.
The most recent issue of North Dakota Outdoors is a comprehensive snapshot of the current status of many of our game animals. Touching on everything from moose to mourning doves, the issue details the challenges some populations face as well as the successes of others. Ruffed grouse make for an interesting case. Only found in about six counties in the state, this bird has long been known to undergo a cyclic population dynamic. No one really has all the answers for this but their numbers yo-yo up and down every 8-10 years or so.
During our daily walk through life, all of us, at some point or another, run into "experts." Perhaps not expert in the academic sense, but folks who know enough about a particular subject to become the go-to contact when a certain fine point is in dispute. Often that person even becomes the subject themselves e.g. "there's Beth, she's the rose lady," or, "John, he's that woodcarver guy right?" In academia it gets a little more precise. There are experts - and these are the real McCoys - in just about everything imaginable, even small unnoticed bugs.
Midsummer is not exactly a birdwatcher's favorite time of year. It's hot, it's buggy, and vegetative growth is at or near its maximum which makes for difficult viewing. Then there's the mix of birds themselves. A few species have already left for the year and most sought-after migrants have yet to return. What we are left with can be summed up by the trite phrase, same old, same old. While jogging last weekend I couldn't help but notice many species have simply quit singing.
Late July is not exactly prime time among the network of bird aficionados. In fact, you may even call it a lull of sorts. But standing out amid the humdrum of routine nesting species is one group in particular, the shorebirds. These are the birds that strut around in mudflats and shallow water on longish skinny legs probing the flats with long bills. Most are through nesting high up into Canada and are currently working their way south through the state, often in good numbers.
A couple of weeks ago I got a phone call out of the blue. On the other end was a friend from Grand Forks - Tim Driscoll - informing me that he and Dr. Robert Rosenfield were coming to West Fargo to band a family of Cooper's hawks in Elmwood Park and asking if I'd like to join them. Always ready for an adventure, I said I would. Joining us were Tim's brother, Chuck and his wife Gayle - the original finders of the nest - along with their son, Eric.
I was living in Spokane, Wash., back in 1986, and doing quite a little fishing. One particular day, our small group had driven down to the Grande Ronde River in the southeast corner of the state to pursue steelhead trout. Just upstream from where the Grande Ronde joins the Snake River, it's a dry desolate area with high, steep-sloping, rocky canyon walls. We were not alone that day. Another vehicle, loaded with gear, parked along the gravel. They weren't after steelhead though. They had a dog and shotguns and were heading up the slopes in pursuit of chukar (Alectoris chukar).