A few days ago I drove west, as I do every spring, to join thousands of people who converge annually on the Platte River and the Rainwater Basin wetlands of south-central Nebraska. Nearly everybody who comes here comes to see some of the millions of migrating birds that congregate in this narrow stretch of the Central Flyway in March: sandhill cranes, ducks, geese, and more.
Some of us are also here to see people.
Chip-chip-ch, d-d-d-d-dit. Two sedge wrens echoed each other’s songs in the marshy bottomland near the forks of the Baraboo River. I walked along the bike path, listening and taking notes.
A pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks came zooming down the path toward me, and then veered off into a tree over my left shoulder. The male, black and white with a scarlet bib, perched among the leaves and began to sing. I wrote that down.
In his essay, “Marshland Elegy,” Aldo Leopold mourned the steady decline of sandhill cranes – and the wildness they represent – in the upper Midwest. All lost to a thing called progress.
Seven decades later, the trumpeting voices of thousands upon thousands of cranes ring out across the marshes and river valleys Continue reading
Food for the kids.
A few nights ago we heard an unfamiliar sound – a persistent, high-pitched squawk – through the open dining room window. What could it be? A small mammal in its death throes? I padded barefoot around the back yard, listening, and got a surprise: the sound was coming from two directions, maybe more. Back inside, I made a wild guess and a quick internet search, which confirmed my suspicions. We had newly fledged great horned owls in our neighborhood.
The next morning, as I walked upstream along the river, an American redstart flew across my path and into a small tree where she delivered a morsel into the mouth of a waiting baby bird. Another sign of the season. Continue reading
Western or eastern meadowlark? A field guide will tell you.
Remember the feeling you got as a kid when a Christmas catalog showed up in the mail? That’s how I feel about a good bird book. Time slips away as I flip through page after colorful page, making a mental wish-list of the birds I’d like to see.
In the July 16 post, I recommended two guides to the behavior and natural history of birds. Identifying birds in the field, though, calls for a field guide. Continue reading
Out for a run along the river last week, I noticed something flicker at the edge of my vision and looked up just in time to see a cedar waxwing launching itself upward from a branch to snatch a dragonfly in mid-air.
I stopped running and watched the bird land again on the dead branch, where it appeared to reposition the big insect Continue reading
I was at my desk today, deep in thought, when I gradually became award of a growing din outside. Blue jays screamed, crows cawed. Then I heard within the frenzy a single, descending whinny. Ah. Even before I reached the back yard and looked uphill, I knew what I would see. A bald eagle, which makes occasional visits, was perched atop the old white pine at the south edge of our yard. Continue reading
You can’t always count on birds to demonstrate their songs, as this Western Meadowlark is doing.
Since moving to Wisconsin, one of my rites of spring has been the drive to Nebraska for the sandhill crane migration…and the long drive home afterward, often through a snow storm. One thing that brightens the trip is my little stack of birdsong CDs. In fact, I listen to them almost any time that I’m in the car in March and April.
I’m not talking about mood-music CDs – the ones with wood thrushes singing while Clair de lune plays in the background. Mine are ear-training CDs for birders. Continue reading