“This will rank in my top two for overall coldest,” said retired educator and Dayton, Ohio-area birder Daryl Michael after spending the day looking for birds as part of Fargo-Moorhead’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC) Saturday, December 14. Michael’s goal is to do at least one in all 50 states before he’s done. North Dakota was his 37th. The annual CBC, begun by ornithologist Frank Chapman at the turn of the century after concern over declining bird populations began to arise, is currently in its 114th year.
I get asked a certain question with enough frequency that one should think I would have a pat answer for it by now. “How do I feed birds and what do I feed them?” As simple as that might sound, it takes some time to fully explain the considerations and nuances of what can end up being anything from a quite rewarding experience to abject disappointment. First, let’s dispel a myth. The birds, however cold and desperate looking they might appear to be this time of year, do not need our food to keep them alive.
While delivering a presentation recently I was asked if birds change their normal ranges. The answer, simply, is yes. To further understand the implications, though, it’s instructive to remember a phrase I utter quite often. Indeed it’s become a personal mantra of sorts. That is, ‘habitat is everything.’ Briefly, without appropriate habitat no living thing exists. Each creature requires (or at least desires) certain criteria for it to survive, procreate, and thrive. Some needs are more restrictive, some quite broad. What is habitat?
Carl Loge, a small business owner in Moorhead, is an avid sportsman and had seen just about every flying fowl out there. Yet while hunting ducks two weekends ago in central North Dakota he encountered something just a little different. “I was on the north side of Lake Audubon and I had shot three Redheads and two bluebills (Scaup sp.) so I had one more duck to get (limit is six),” said Loge. “I was concentrating on what didn’t look like a redhead when here comes this big black duck and I got it.” Speaking to the scarcity of this bird Loge continued the story.
Twenty-three years ago, looking to put a few more dollars in my pocket, I began working for a farmer northeast of Moorhead during the sugar beet harvest. It turned into a near-annual engagement from that year on. More recently, I have helped with the corn and soybean harvests as well, filling out my free fall days driving various pieces of farm equipment. In some ways it’s similar to my primary profession, aviation. Both share ample opportunities for experiencing the earth and sky, one from 32,000 feet, the other from 8 feet. And both allow ample time for thinking.
My butternut squash froze last weekend. Sunday morning I woke up to find my thermometer reading 34 degrees but it sits a few feet above the ground. At ground level, however, a distinctive hoary-white coating blanketed the grass next to the meandering squash vine, which also sported frost. Official thermometers are sited four to six feet above the ground according to WDAY meteorologist Daryl Richison, as does mine.
In any culture there is a segment of the population that goes about its business unnoticed—or at least underappreciated--by the rest. It consists of the workers and toilers quietly but diligently doing work integral to the function of society. It might be the garbage collector, the motel maid, the fry cook, the bus driver; each shoulders a portion of the burden important to the day-to-day well being of America but does it without fanfare and headlines.
I guess you could call me a raptorphile. Be it a falcon, an eagle, or a hawk, there’s just something about seeing a bird of prey that sparks a heightened alertness in me. Part of the allure is the look. That hooked meat-tearing beak; the stern visage with piercing eyes beneath menacing eyebrows; the curved talons ending in razor sharp tips, it all completes the impression of a made-for-battle animal, one that demands respect. There is the soaring ability too. Raptors, especially Buteos (soaring hawks such as red-tailed hawk), can display a grace and dignity nearly unmatched in the sky.
The Konza Prairie property was once part of a large ranch within an area of eastern Kansas known as the Flint Hills. Characterized by limestone outcroppings and thin topsoils, the Flint Hills represents the largest remaining chunk of one of the fastest disappearing ecosystems in the world—the tallgrass prairie.