A stark reality is staring us in the face. No, I'm not talking about the brutally cold weather we've endured the past few weeks nor the mountains of snow we must gingerly peek around while trying to turn a street corner. Instead, I'm speaking to the slow but steady decline of social organizations within the local community and the country (world?) at large.
A news item appearing last week in local media, including this newspaper, made for a nice little diversion from the relentless onslaught of stories surrounding our late January cold weather. It spoke of a certain rare bird—a brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)—making daily appearances at a rural property north of Detroit Lakes. From far and wide, hundreds of people have made the trek to this remote northwest Minnesota home to check the remarkable Eurasian finch off their life list, according to reports.
The connection between mankind and birds has been with us since we first walked upright. From cave art in prehistoric times to modern depictions on Christmas cards and other forms of art, birds have forever seeped into our collective psyche. Some instances, mostly older, cater to our darker side with creepy mythological explanations for things we didn't quite understand. Mostly, though, bird references throughout the ages have been those of a brighter nature.
By now most of us have seen at least snippets of video—if not entire documentaries—depicting the intensely harsh conditions facing emperor penguins in Antarctica during their annual breeding cycle.
The first definition of the word shrew at dictionary.com reads, "a woman of violent temper and speech." William Shakespeare's title character, Kate, in his play, The Taming of the Shrew, is just such a person. She's hot-tempered, slaps people around, and cuts men to ribbons with her razor sharp tongue. But there is a second definition of the word. In fact it's the original one. And the one from which the first definition derives. It reads, "any of several small, mouselike insectivores of the genus Sorex and related genera, having a long, sharp snout."
There is something exceedingly mesmerizing about watching a soaring hawk. As far as I can recall this is not a new idea for me. Even before I started calling myself a "birder,"—sometime around 1978—I can remember looking up at these rather large birds carving broad arcing circles in the sky. They made me take notice and stare even then. I often wonder if the seeds for my chosen profession (aviation) weren't initially planted by observing these and other birds in flight.
Several years ago a few of us put together a handy usable bird checklist for the combined counties of Cass and Clay. It took many long hours of work compiling ideas and data into an attractive, four-panel, foldable product made available to the public, most notably at the "elevator" along I-94, the home of the Fargo-Moorhead Convention and Visitors Bureau. A few weeks ago the CVB called to inform us that they had run out of Cass-Clay checklists. Knowing this product is now seven years old it's time to think about a redo.
Ever been on a carousel? Sure, we all have. That rickety circular contraption that goes round-and-round with all manner of colorful horse-like figures rhythmically bobbing up and down on gilded poles is typically the first carnival ride of a young person's life. The lines of riders waiting their turns are usually made up of young parents with toddlers plus the occasional couple looking for a romantic moment.
"It's over Johnny." Cinephiles on top of their games may recall this movie line spoken by Col. Trautmann (Richard Crenna) to John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone), a drifting Vietnam veteran in the 1982 film, First Blood. It's also the line used by a fellow birder and me every year when Connecticut warblers finally show up in late spring. Except we aren't referencing dark corners of a PTSD-troubled mind. Instead, we are simply tapping into a pop culture meme to denote the end of spring bird migration
It's been many years since I was awake over a 24-hour period. Despite the occasional long work day or demanding schedule I have inevitably crashed to sleep before reaching that limit. To the best of my memory it's been nearly 20 years. So it was with some trepidation that I considered an offer by a young and ambitious birder to attempt a North Dakota Big Day this spring.