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).
Quite a few years ago I was on an Air National Guard trip to Norfolk, Virginia. If I remember correctly, the other pilot and I had a day off between hops where we had little to do. So off we went exploring territory neither one of us had been to. Here's a little nugget: If you are ever in that area make sure to check out the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, it's considered one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world. The road is 20 miles long and consists of bridges, trestles and two, mile-long tunnels under the water, all designed to get cars across the lower end of Chesapeake Bay.
April 17 of this year started quite well for me. I had found a parking spot at the Forum lot. That, in itself, was an accomplishment. But while striding across the parking lot with a little extra spring in my step, a small winged creature flitted across my path. It was the first one I'd seen since last fall. Its unmistakable markings were that of a mourning cloak (Nympalis antiopa) butterfly. Even as a kid growing up in West Fargo, the mourning cloak was one of the most easily identified butterflies I and my buddies encountered during the summer. Dr.
Among a group of bird nuts, discussions range from the latest binoculars to the latest bird species to arrive this spring. Occasionally more introspective categories are covered, such as why we don't find magpies in Cass County or the reasons horned larks are so successful. To the average person, most of this talk sounds like gobbledygook, much as I would be lost among nuclear physicists arguing over the mass of the newest subatomic particle. But to interested individuals it means something. One interesting challenge among bird finders is speculating about the next great sighting.
The company airplane made a day-trip to Duluth last week. I always enjoy getting to the North Shore and at least briefly, experiencing the hustle and bustle of a port town. Plus the views are of a kind not found here on the Great Plains: steep rocky terrain, an unending fetch of water, thick forested land, and large ships plying the waters of the Great Lakes. For bird nuts there is an added bonus. Duluth has a rich history of numerous and interesting bird sightings; more than any other location that I know of for hundreds of miles in any direction.
"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on." So wrote William Shakespeare in the third act of Othello. A simpler, more watered-down and easier to understand modern version goes: "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." It afflicts us all at one time or another I suppose - that feeling of jealousy. Or at least a certain desire for something else; something we don't have. This brings us to the point. Birders are a loose collection of folks from varying backgrounds representing every income level.
Now that we are finally shedding this cloak of winter, waterfowl, raptors and a few songbirds are starting to show up. It's an exciting time for us residents of the northern plains, with thoughts of summer activities already playing around in our heads. Never call us anything if not optimistic. Of the few avian species that have made a showing so far, perhaps none is more surprising to some than the Eastern bluebird (Sialia sialia).