Am I seeing a lot fewer birds in the deep woods as time goes along? My quick answer is yes; and I hear others saying the same thing.

I step outside into the biting cold of pre-snow winter, and as I gaze through the glasses at the flow of the about-to-be frozen Red River, I hear the bright, clear chic-a-dee-dee-dee of my faithful winter chickadee friend, singing out to me as if to say, I am always with you, come winter or summer, fair weather or foul.

American crow lopes across the sky in front of me in his casual way. He has that certain kind of lordly way about him as if he owns the place. He passes out of sight to my left.

Today I find myself in what I call the Audubon Forest along the Red River a few miles north of Moorhead. Only some of the green ash still hold some of their browned leaves of autumn.

In many ways this is an excellent time to come in here, because the ground is frozen solid, ground that has been too damp and soggy to navigate.

I was thinking that there did not seem to be any bird and animal life in here this morning, but I should know by now that it takes a little time for critters to adjust to my presence among them and to accept me. I must abide in the waiting room, so to speak until I am invited in. There is this protocol.

I have just met Patrick Tate, part of an auxiliary working with Audubon on special prospects, one of which I shall mention in a moment. There are vigorous young men and women who love the out of doors in any weather.

I have just been introduced to the famous buckthorn, which I have heard about for several years, but had not yet met. It is obviously extremely hardy, and retains its green leaves deep into the autumn cold. Patrick pointed out the plant to me.

From a distance it looks like innocent underbrush. It sports a smooth-edged leaf about three inches long and two inches wide that appear paired on the twig like ash. They are a deep green.

It warrants its name, for it is armed with vicious thorns that could easily draw blood. I haven’t tried, but I expect it would be difficult to walk through a forest of this 8-foot high brush unharmed.

Folks with an interest in forests call buckthorn an invasive species. It has taken on this bad name because it takes over the forest floor and drives out all other ground cover. Patrick and his auxiliary group are about the business of driving it out.

Well, I haven’t said much about this bird life. That will have to wait for another time. It is an issue, and is probably relegated to human misuse of the plant life of the land. There is a continued call to us humans not just to use the land that is given to us, but to love it as well.   

James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.


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