LISTEN: Flight Lines, there's more to birding than migration
"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
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
and the fact that, from that moment on, local bird diversity drops steeply.
A funny thing happens to bird watching activity once this happens. It drops steeply too. I know of
several birders in the Fargo-Moorhead area that, like an animal waking from hibernation,
suddenly appear in local parks and other hotspots to experience the frenzied excitement of spring migration, only to drop back out of sight once it ends. It's like church members that only show up at Easter and Christmas.
I get it. I fully understand how the intoxicating allure of migration, with its delirious variety of
colorful neotropical birds can stir even the most sedentary among us to action. It is truly the
highlight of the birding year without question.
On the official birding calendar, summer is the shortest season of the year lasting only the months of June and July. It also happens to be the time of year when many of us are vacationing or going to the lakes. Birding becomes an afterthought at best. Yet for some of us, it never really ends.
Notably, this is the time of year when breeding is monitored. Two Saturdays ago a friend and I
spent several hours in southern Cass County looking for evidence of nesting. We found it
everywhere from fuzzy, begging young to food-carrying adults to occupied nests. Observations
such as these keep our data alive, vibrant, and up-to-date.
A number of official Breeding Bird Surveys are conducted every year around the state and
elsewhere. But, as valuable as these annual counts are, they are only one-day snapshots. These brief glimpses simply cannot replace the worth of local and ongoing record gathering.
Another option always open to bird watchers is behavior. The average person might imagine that, by this early 21st -century date, we know just about all there is to know about birds. Not true. Not even close. Every day a new piece of information is added to the body of knowledge. Quite often it's some quirky behavior not previously recorded. Frequently, it's observed by a non-professional such as you or me.
North Dakota is fertile ground for the harvesting of bird information. Robert Stewart's Breeding
Birds of North Dakota was the last time a compendium of any sort was published. That was in
1975. We are sorely in need of an update.
I encourage anyone with an interest and the time to not put your binoculars away just yet. Oh
sure, get those rounds of golf in, go fishing for a few hours, and weed your garden. Just be
observant of the world around you, specifically the birds, they will inevitably surprise you with
some antic or another.
More importantly, watch for nesting behavior. That includes such things as gathering nest
materials, carrying food, recently fledged young, etc. I've got a list of species lacking nesting
documentation in Cass County yet I highly suspect they do. We just need verification.
Spring bird migration is now long over and, for many, the rest of the year is a slow let down from
that heady crescendo. Yet there is still plenty of birding to be done, arguably the most important
from a scientific standpoint. No, it's not over.
In keeping with the motion picture idea, I'll let the late John Belushi, playing Bluto in the bawdy 1978 cult classic, Animal House, close us out. When it was evident that Dean Wormer had all but succeeded in bringing down the out-of-control fraternity, Delta House,a toga-wrapped Bluto rose and began to rant, "Over? Did you say, 'over'? Nothing is over until we decide it is."