We are under an invasion. Unlike Orson Welles' 1938 radio adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel, War of the Worlds, this one is real and it's coming from the north. There is little we can do to stop it, but like the harmless romp Welles's program turned out to be, this current invasion is relatively harmless, too. That is unless you happen to be a small furbearer, a primary food source for snowy owls (Nyctea scandiaca). The movement of a bird species following the breeding season into areas beyond their normal range is more properly labeled an irruption.
We may not hear it but it's evident among the drifts of dried and fallen leaves. It's readily apparent in the icy sheets forming and flowing along the local rivers. Its signature is also inked in the purple skies of early winter. This dynamic yet enigmatic essence I'm describing is nothing less than the ever beating pulse found in the world around us. Call it the rhythm of nature. While musicians of all stripes immerse themselves intimately in the tempo of their work, nature does the same thing only on the very grandest of scales, one large enough to encompass the entire planet actually.
Just by happenstance - I call it luck - I live in the same West Fargo neighborhood as North Dakota Game and Fish Department biologist, Doug Leier. Not only have we watched each other's children grow through the years, but we've shared many outdoors stories. They're often a little unconventional; such was the case just last week. Leier recounted a recent episode near my home where an American bittern had taken up residence in the yard of a neighbor for a few days.
Remove the leaves from trees and all manner of secrets are exposed to the world. Secrets which had been hidden for the summery months in the dappled verdant bosom of leaf canopy now lay bare and vulnerable to chilly autumn winds. Case in point is the abandoned American goldfinch nest in a tree alongside my driveway. Just weeks ago it was a shielded and shadowy place ideal for the purpose of quietly raising young. Its smallish cottony cup was well-placed in a branch crook and meant to catch the attention of nothing but doting goldfinch parents.
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.