There is a shorebird currently in our midst that possesses a rather impressive collection of offbeat behaviors. I was pleased to find a substantial number of them recently while conducting a shorebird survey for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This little prairie nester I'm referring to is the Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor).
It was 1918 when a fellow named Robert Ripley began drawing cartoon panels for newspapers with the heading, Believe It or Not! Ripley would pass along weird facts and oddities from around the world and present them in these panels. The feature became immensely popular and made Mr. Ripley a very rich man. The franchise still exists with many "museums" scattered around the country in popular tourist locales. I'm not exactly sure where this gentleman harvested his factual data or how it was verified. But facts have a way of getting lost in the murky sea of hearsay and wives' tales.
In all the years of books and television coverage dealing with Egyptian culture I've never run across a segment that tells of birds colliding with the great pyramids. But I suspect it probably happened. Since humans have been erecting structures there have likely been consequences for the birds. Unintended, to be sure, but very real. Unintended consequences are an almost inevitable part of life. We dream up a great idea, create a plan, execute the plan and evaluate it. In the end, there are usually effects stemming from our original idea that were totally unexpected.
I've come to hate the months of March and April. They represent a cruel time of teasingly warmer weather and balmy days, only to be snatched away in an instant and replaced with yet more snow and winter winds. It's as if the nasty neighbor kid who, in a strange magnanimous moment, gives you his prize marble. Then he takes it back with a vicious grin. I keep telling my wife there will come a day when we won't be around to experience these heartless attempts at spring. Instead there will be palm trees. And green grass.
What's black and white and read all over? Just about anyone knows the answer to this age-old riddle: a newspaper. If, on the other hand, a person was to pose this question to a group of birders interested in woodpeckers, that person would tweak the question slightly. Instead of "read all over," it would have to be "red on the back of the head." The answer would then be a male of either the Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) or the Hairy Woodpecker (P. villosus). Both of these common woodpeckers are entirely black and white and very recognizable to Americans.
Those who enjoy the outdoors typically do so for myriad reasons: Fresh air, stress relief, hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, or whatever. Getting outside to enjoy some hobby or another commonly leads to other interests as well. Most folks I know who enjoy birds came at it from one side or another but usually from an outdoor pursuit of some sort. I've been asked how I got into bird watching (or 'birding') many times.
cutline: This leucistic female House Finch was observed last week in West Fargo. It's white head feathers would normally be a plain gray-brown. People watching. We all do it I suppose. I even know some folks who will head to the mall with nothing else in mind but watching people. Whatever the motive, it can be interesting at times. In the course of this pursuit it becomes readily apparent to even the casual viewer that the human race is quite varied. We come in different sizes, different colors, different shapes and different races.
Winter in our parts brings a stillness and quiet unmatched at any other time of year. Accounting for this relative calm are a few factors. First, it's cold and not a lot of people are out mowing lawns, walking, playing ball, etc. Because of the temperatures there are no flying insects buzzing about. Also, most birds are absent, having gone to points south of us. Those that are here are largely silent. Of the few birds making themselves vocally known this time of year, perhaps none is more distinctive than the White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis).
This column has addressed human-wildlife conflicts in the past. Let's go a little further this time and touch on a very emotional and contentious subject, house and feral cats. Just mentioning this topic invites breathless arguments on all sides of the issue, some rational, some not. Cats have become a synonym for house pet almost since it was first domesticated in Egypt some 4,000 years ago. Today they are held by their owners as beloved members of the family and treated almost as well. The controversy arises once the animal leaves the confines of the home and wanders outside.
Photo cutline: Fruit trees represent a rich source of energy for Bohemian Waxwings. These two are sitting on an Eastern Wahoo. It's as predictable as moon phases. About the time snow starts to fly, many northern folks leave behind their homes and the looming winter, and flee to warmer climates in the South. Arizona, Texas, and Florida seem to carry the bulk of snowbirds from this area. I can't blame them. There may be a day when I am able to engage in this annual migration. But in the meantime, I try and appreciate the four seasons and all they offer.