Like almost every morning, last Friday found me leafing through the pages of the Forum newspaper. Separating this day from most was a story on page A7 which carried the following headline: "Farmer 'flipped out' at pelicans." It described a Faribault County, Minn., farmer who, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, destroyed 1,458 nests and 2,400 eggs and chicks of American white pelicans on May 17 of this year.
Lobbying. The very word makes me cringe. It connotes all manner of unseemly political chicanery from bought-and-paid-for votes on contentious issues to the unflattering influence money brings to the process. At the same time, however, without lobbyists many of the issues and problems we face as Americans - or at least our opinion of them - would not garner the attention of our elected officials. Additionally, those simple telephone calls we as citizens make to our senators and those short notes we scribble to our representatives are, in essence, lobbying.
Consider the topic areas below simplistic. Species of different stripes tend to be scattered all over the chart when it comes to characteristics and shun sweeping generalizations. Still, at the risk of sounding overly broad, it's instructive to address some common tendencies. Flocking behavior: Apart from the few species which tend to be found in flocks nearly all year (think European starlings, Franklin's gulls, or cedar waxwings), most birds tend to spend periods alone or in family groups, at least during the breeding season.
The first time I remember hearing it was in 1983 while living in Columbus, Miss. By the time summer arrived, things were as hot and sticky as this North Dakota native had ever experienced. Nights never did cool off and days, oh those days. Around July, I became aware of an extremely annoying buzz coming from the trees in the area. In fact, during jogs along wooded streets the sound was nearly deafening at times. And don't even try to leave your windows open at night; the noise made it impossible to sleep.
Years ago I tried looking for Baird's sparrow in Cass County. I knew this sought-after songbird was a grassland specialist and, well, there's grass in Cass County isn't there? Little did I know how ridiculous this errant quest was. A friend of mine gently but surely led me to realize I was wasting my time. The bird just won't be here. I was confusing habitat with range. Many years have passed and I've since come to fully appreciate one overarching characteristic of life in general and of species in particular. That is, it's all about habitat.
Just last weekend I found myself in the cell phone parking lot at Fargo's Hector Airport waiting for family members to return from a brief trip. It was a pleasant afternoon with ample sunshine and little wind. My vehicle windows were down. A western meadowlark soon announced its presence by singing its loud flute-like song from atop a nearby sign. A few distant meadowlarks could also be heard. Yet during the ten or so minutes I was parked in the lot, I heard only a few other species singing - savannah sparrow, a calling American crow, and a horned lark.
If you hang around the bird-watching hobby long enough there are a number of themes which you will find unavoidable. As much as you want to just sit there with your coffee and watch those feathered beauties outside your kitchen window, you inevitably get sucked into topical areas such as vocalizations, courtship behavior, migration, and taxonomy. One I personally tried to avoid for years was molt.
Reality can be an elusive thing, or at least our perception of it. I'm no psychologist but I am well aware that what we think we see or hear might be light years apart from what is actually taking place. Defense attorneys will tell you the same thing but with considerably different motives I suspect. No more clearly was this demonstrated to me than when I attended the Air Force's Flight Safety Officer School in southern California back in 1988. Most intriguing for me were the various aspects involved with accident investigation.
Sticks to himself, doesn't play well with others, quiet, a loner. This could very well appear in the report card of a young school child with problems in need of addressing. It could also describe one of our common, but seldom noticed shorebirds, the solitary sandpiper (Tringa solitaria). I've been looking at birds for over 30 years now, yet cannot recall ever seeing more than one solitary sandpiper at a time. Most shorebirds are keen on maintaining large groups, sometimes in the thousands. Not this one.
It took spending a day with other birders to regain a perspective I may have let wane. Spend enough time with any given endeavor and a person can become somewhat inured to the process. As weeks turn to years, those things which used to excite us no longer carry the same spark it once did. The thing that got us springing out of bed every morning now has us drearily reaching for that second cup of coffee. Careers can become mindless droning activities for some. Even hobbies can begin to lose their appeal. So it was with birding. I confess to a certain level of burnout.