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.
We had just finished walking back to my vehicle from a wooded area north of West Fargo a couple of weeks ago when a friend of mine and I heard it simultaneously; the deep-down, throaty call from a common raven. Despite its name this is a bird quite uncommon in Cass County. We had been on a short walk looking for early seasonal migrants; the raven was an unexpected treat. We never saw the bird, but its call is unmistakable and quite unlike the unmusical "caw" of an American crow.
At exactly noon on May 1, 2017, the painted wooden tripod augured into the ice on Alaska's Tanana River near Fairbanks toppled, signaling spring ice breakup and paying out $267,444 to a lucky few bettors. Since the tradition began in 1917, the Nenana Ice Classic has distributed nearly $14 million to the person or persons guessing the closest moment of ice breakup every spring.
During the long dead of winter it can be challenging for bird watchers to find motivation, not to mention birds. The few hardy resident species that stay here can become--dare I say it?--kinda boring for some of us. Thus the idea of moving farther outside our normal circles begins to take on a certain appeal. A handful of times every winter I find myself driving miles of empty county roads. In part, it's a simple relief from nagging cabin fever but it's also to explore the broader region in search of birds that may not be found in the metro area.
Through the slowly thickening coat of frost oozing across your spare room window you glimpse your bundled-up neighbor trudging out to her car to attempt a start. The layer of snow that fell last night crunches loudly under her heavy boots. It's crisp and clear, 'at least the sun is shining,' you tell yourself, 'it's not all that bad.'