It was one of those fortunate moments last week when a person gets the opportunity to stop and fully inhale his surroundings, however brief it lasts. I was standing on the ramp at the Fargo airport marveling at the dim yet strengthening rays of light being cast by a soon-to-rise sun upon an approaching storm to the west. The cool pastels were painted unevenly across the dimples and swirls of the burgeoning cumulous cloud. It would rain soon.
It had been on my radar for many years. Like all those big, green, inviting splotches found while poring over maps, Riding Mountain National Park stood out for me as a "would-like- to-explore- someday" destination. It didn't seem all that far away either. Mapping software said the drive should be about five and a half hours from Fargo, closer by far than, say, the Black Hills. Yet no one I knew ever really mentioned it. In fact, it wasn't until this summer that I had ever met anyone who had stepped foot there.
"Hey, Keith. Hey, Keith," the voice on the other side of the fence shouted. "Guess what we saw today? A green heron," said Clay Schultze, excitedly answering his own question while popping his ballcap-covered head over the top of the fence. He had just returned from a bird outing in south Fargo and couldn't wait to share the news. It just so happened that upon moving into a new residence in north Fargo, I immediately discovered the oldest child next door has found a love for birds. The backyard was festooned with bird houses hanging here and there. How ironic is that?
They did it to us again. After savoring the beautiful scientific name Catoptrophorus semipalmatus for more than 200 years, scientists have seen fit to change it to Tringa semipalmata. The common name remains the same: willet. But the bird's Latin binomial has been redubbed due to DNA analysis that suggested it belonged with the Tringini tribe.
If anyone has had the chance to see one of the three North American ptarmigan (Lagopus sp.) species in the wild, you know what I'm talking about when I say these are birds so cryptically feathered as to make them virtually invisible in their environment. Unfortunately there are none to be found here as two of them are strictly Canadian and the other is confined to the high elevations of the Rocky Mountains.
I wasn't around when the debate took place in Bismarck to determine just what bird would represent the great state of North Dakota as its avian symbol, but I'd be interested in reading the record if one exists.
It happens with startling regularity. The misidentification of birds, that is. We all do it, even those of us who claim to be pretty good at it.
A handful of times in the past couple of weeks I have encountered flocks of geese while approaching Fargo's Hector Airport to land. Once we even took evasive action to avoid a potentially dangerous collision with these large waterfowl. Even observers on the ground are noticing an uptick in the birds' activities. Encounters near the airport are not particularly unusual. However, the makeup of the flocks is noticeably different than what one encounters during summer months. First, let's just clear the air and address a pet peeve.
Rara avis. This Latin phrase, and many others like it, is encountered with some frequency in written English. As is the case with many Latin references, we tend to Anglicize the original meaning and make it fit our modern usage. In the Collins English Dictionary, rara avis is defined as, "an unusual, uncommon, or exceptional person or thing." In its original Latin, however, the phrase simply means rare bird.
A couple of weeks ago I took advantage of my temporary location — Ft. Collins, Colo.— and drove several miles up the winding and picturesque Poudre Canyon to a spot where I spent the next four hours pleasantly hiking the six-mile loop trail to the top of Mt. McConnel and back. It was fabulous in so many ways. Yet, it stood in stark contrast to a couple of images stuck in my head from the previous 24 hours.The prior evening I enjoyed a pleasant dinner at a local restaurant.