Specialists come in just about any field of interest, from automobile racing-- Indy cars, stock cars, and sprint cars for instance—all the way to medicine (neurology, otolaryngology, oncology, etc.). It should come as little surprise to find that bird watching also seems to have its niches.
That the Black Hills of South Dakota is a unique place is not lost on people around here. Most everyone I know has made the trek at one time or another and seen Mt. Rushmore, Badlands National Park, maybe a cave or two along with the much-hyped Reptile Gardens, or perhaps even the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It's close enough to get there in a day and makes for a great--albeit tourist-choked--getaway for us in this region. Yet I would venture to guess most visitors do not fully appreciate just how geographically and biologically special these five thousand square miles really are.
With a spare moment last week I decided to check on the only great blue heron nesting area that I am aware of in Cass County. A handful of miles south of Galesburg just inside the county line, a small grove of cottonwoods have, for several years, provided a home to many pairs of this large wading bird, creating a small nesting colony known as a rookery. Upon arriving this day, though, it was apparent that no nests were present. Plus it looked as if there may not have been any last year either.
It seems like a lifetime ago when I went through the Air Force's land survival school in eastern Washington. At the time it was a two-week course, I believe, consisting of classroom academics plus several days "in the woods" to hammer home the concepts introduced therein. As a person who had grown up in a rural state camping, fishing, hiking, hunting, and being generally familiar with the outdoors, it wasn't particularly challenging. Certain individuals, however, were pretty wide-eyed about it all, this "woods" thing representing a stark alien concept to them. And it showed.
As a young teenager I found and read a book about tracking animals. The idea that creatures leave prints, signs or some clue to their having been present in a place was—and still is—mystically alluring to me. Those old western movies we watched as kids probably started it. It seemed like all the scout had to do was look down at the dust and he'd instantly know how many guys they were after and how long ago they passed along with other relevant information. It was heady stuff.
The count was 0- 2; I was deep in the hole. I had just swung wildly at the second pitch and come up empty. I stepped out of the batter's box, adjusted my helmet and batting glove, dug into my stance and stared down the pitcher. At least that's what it felt like last week in southeast Arizona where I went looking for a life bird.
There are Mexican jays and American crows so why can't our neighbors to the north be in possession of a goose? Instead, the possessive form of the proper adjective is nowhere in sight and its name is "Canada goose." Same for its warbler; it's not Canadian, it's a Canada warbler. No one has yet explained this seemingly illogical grammatical imbalance to me.
KEARNEY, Neb.—They approached the sanctuary headquarters two hours before sunrise. Somewhere out there in the darkness, toward the river, a few distant calls could be heard—faintly—above the crunch of gravel under their feet. This would not be like last night; a front had passed bringing a brisk chilly wind, collars were turned up, shoulders hunched against it.
In my capacity as a professional aviator I end up flying to places all over. This fits quite well with my love of travel. There's also a huge side benefit to this wandering about: it allows me to occasionally visit some of the more amazing birding sites America has to offer. I've spent some of this column space speaking of these.
The fact that red squirrels are major predators of songbirds in the eastern U.S. makes some people anthropomorphically uncomfortable. Those fun frolicky tree climbers seem—to the uninformed—so innocent and charming. And about those cute little songsters popping in and out of your birdhouse, the house wrens, yeah, they've got a rather unkind habit of being pugnacious and rude neighbors to the point of entering nearby nests and destroying eggs.