Following Sunday’s snow-and-wind wallop I had plenty of time for coffee and breakfast. Despite having spent the better part of Monday morning clearing my driveway and sidewalks, the street in front of my home had yet to be plowed at noon. And after having witnessed even 4-wheel-drive pickups struggle lethargically through it all, I knew I had little chance venturing out in my not-so-aggressive sedan. That left time for the back yard and the scads of birds lining up at the feeders.
I would sincerely love to relay how fellow West Fargo birder, Dean Riemer and I drove two hours to a wooded tract in northwestern Minnesota last Sunday and relocated a rare northern owl. But I can’t. We whiffed on it.
If we were to conduct a poll asking people what their favorite literary genre is, we'd get answers all over the chart from science fiction to European history. There's a reason Barnes and Noble carries so many titles, it caters to a reading public with extremely diverse interests. Likewise there is no single category of motion picture that appeals to all, tastes are just too variable to simply corral.
Everyone seems to relish in the annual practice of reviewing the previous 12 months when late December rolls around. It's a nearly sacred rite in some media circles. In the event, dear reader, you are not yet fully exhausted by this, allow me to point out the year's birding highlights from our fair state and county. January saw the continued presence of the snowy owl invasion which had begun early in the winter of 2011-2012.
The potluck dinner was finished, most had already exited into the frosty still air last Saturday when I, too, thanked our hostess and made my way to the car, still scratching my head in awe. How had we done it? Indeed, a loose-knit group of area birdwatchers had gone out that day to tally birds as part of the 113th running of the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), billed as the "largest and longest-running Citizen Science program in the world," according to the National Audubon Society's website.
Not surprisingly, the most recent issue of Living Bird News features a bird photograph on its cover, two birds actually. Captured by photographer Tim Laman, the stunning shot depicts a pair of twelve-wired birds-of-paradise. The male's upper half is a resplendent jet black, the rest seemingly dipped in lemon-yellow paint. Coral legs and stoplight-red eyes complete the look while its 12 long thin tail plumes make it appear as if the tropical bird is a Christmas ornament constructed in someone's craft shop. Very few North American birds can approach the sheer gaudiness of most tropical ones.
Every once in a while, a keen observer will spot an obvious flaw in the seemingly error-free world of bird morphology. Maybe it's a missing toe or eye. Sometimes it's a feather colored differently than the rest or a wing that can no longer support flight. The sources of such deviations can either come from within the bird, such as a hormonal imbalance causing errant color pigmentation.
Early November, the time of year when things in the world of birding are waning considerably. Nothing is nesting, very few birds are singing, and the diversity of species has fallen precipitously from even a month ago. The days of seeing 100+ species in an outing are behind us, now 50 is a good day.
Certain groups of birds seem to invite a degree of lumping by the public when it comes to their descriptions. It's not to fault observers necessarily; the birds themselves can be difficult to separate into species, they being so frustratingly similar to their kin. "Seagulls" is one of my personal favorites. There are many species of gull in North America, even here in North Dakota. None include the word seagull in their name yet the usage of it remains customary. Another commonly used collective noun is "sparrow." There are about 25 sparrow species regularly seen in North Dakota.
I'm typically not a person to sit still when it comes to being in the out-of-doors. Fly-fishing was a sport which occupied a significant portion of my personal time earlier in life. Rare was the instance when I wasn't continually working up or down a river. So it is with birding; non-stop walking or driving is pretty much my modus operandi, slowing only to scan surroundings before moving on. For this reason I'm not sure I would be a very effective bowhunter if it meant sitting in a blind for hours at a time.