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.
I wonder just how many residents of the Red River Valley have ever heard of a place called Cape May, New Jersey. Not a lot I'd say. Of those that have, I would venture to guess a good portion consists of bird watchers. One reason being it's the location of a well known migrant hawk watching site. The place is also eponymously applied to a boldly colored small bird which happens to migrate through our area, the Cape May warbler (Dendroica tigrina). There is simply something magical about warblers.
If one is to believe the premise of a recent letter-to-the-editor in the Forum, there is a direct threat to the lives of pets everywhere in the metro area and it's coming from the sky. Even more alarming, your babies are at risk. Or so the letter claimed. The author was attempting to paint the Fargo-nesting peregrine falcons as "vicious predators" of all you hold dear.
Initially, I found it odd that a coworker would call me during evening hours. Odd, that is, until he asked the question. Breathing heavily from a late day walk, he blurted, "What's with all the robins?" When things that usually go unnoticed by the general public get attention, you know there's something pretty special taking place. I did a little data mining from the two local online bird discussion groups I belong to, one representing all of North Dakota, the other, Fargo-Moorhead.
A collective noun, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, is a word that "denotes a collection of persons or things regarded as a unit." Whether we are aware or not, the words are quite common and we tend to use them daily. Give it a little thought and the list of words describing groups of persons is amazingly long. Here's a short, off-the-cuff stab at examples: Army, band, congregation, constituency, audience, committee, class, kin, company, platoon, staff, gang, and team.