Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Migrating Birds

by Andy

The barn swallows swoop past the children and I as we enter the red barn to do the morning chores. I reassure the children that the swallows are our friends. As they swoop, they are eating flies and other insects that hover around our heads. We look up and see the many packed-mud swallows' nests that line the rafters of the barn. We learn that the swallows protect the sheep and llamas from biting insects. The swallows return from their migration just as the insects begin to fly about in the springtime. The children have a new appreciation for swallows.

This spring I have enjoyed the return of many migrating birds. The first red-winged blackbirds and robins came while there was still snow on the ground. It was a late departure for the snow, but the birds returned anyway. We heard the red winged blackbirds' water-like calls from the ditches as the snow was melting. About the same time, we heard the unmistakable gurgling warble of flocks of sandhill cranes. They provide the soundtrack for our long days boiling maple sap in early April.

The spring birds return and start nesting and singing right away. Bluebirds, tree swallows, wrens, and cowbirds all vie to occupy the nest boxes. For the second year in a row there are tree swallows nesting just outside the Homestead in a nest box that John Hall helped some students make last year. Their iridescent green plumage shimmers in the sunlight. The phoebes that usually nest in front of the homestead had their spot taken by an enterprising pair of robins this year. Today I watched the robin nestlings open their beaks expectantly to the air when the parent approached with a beak full of worms.

In mid-May we were visited by a real-life birder. We were watching many spectacular orioles at the grape jelly. With his binoculars and trained ear, he brought the migration into even more precise detail. There were many types of warblers, grosbeaks, redstarts and even the uncommon orchard oriole. The hummingbirds buzzed around the sugar water feeder like bees. For days afterwards I was seeing little flashes of color as I appreciated the warbler migration.

The birds of the field are different. As I mow or till the field I am treated to displays. There are bobolinks that live out by the A-field. Black birds with yellow markings, who flutter in the wind. Then there is the northern harrier. The harrier is a low flying hawk that scans the fields for prey from about 10 to 20 feet in the air. Sometimes the harrier will flap its wings so it can float stationary over one spot for what seems like a long time. I imagine the harrier is preparing to drop on an unsuspecting mouse. Death from above! A couple days ago I witnessed the bobolinks harassing the harrier.

I may have forgotten a few. The woodcocks and the wood ducks of the forest and the pond respectively. The killdeer who sometimes nest in the driveway of the homestead, but this year was out in the field. The indigo buntings that people saw in abundance about the same time as the warblers. The song sparrows, who make so much sound from such little forms. There is some bird that likes to perch just above our car in front of the house. From the looks of the windshield, it is not a small bird.

This spring, the return of the missing birds has taken on a special meaning for me. I have appreciated each return and taken time to notice. I will soon be going on my own migration of sorts. Adventures await. But as happy as I am for the opportunities ahead, I am equally heartened to see the return of the birds and know that I plan my own eventual return to my beloved Wisconsin.    

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