Song sparrows serenade me lustily as I settle in by the Red River today. He darts around too quickly among the green ash saplings for me to get a good look at him in the glasses.
However, finally when I settle down quietly in my woolly chair and behave myself he comes down and settles on a low hanging elm branch 15 feet to my left, and almost at eye level to me. I flatter myself that he is responding to my clumsy imitation of his beautiful whistle song and has come in closely to check me out. The song has a single long trill and then five short ones following that: tsi tsi-tsi tsi-tsi tsi. He sings back to me a time or two, and then decides that I look like a poor imitation of a lady sparrow, and he flies off. It’s a bit insulting, but I bear up under it.
Now there’s a sight! Mama mallard swims by going downstream along the far bank of the river with five little fledgling ducklings swimming by her tail, crowded so closely I can’t tell for sure if it’s five or six. They are so tiny that I would wager this is their first day out on the water.
I see that she and her brood are swimming downstream, sailing along at a breezy rate with the help of a brisk current. They swim by 143 yards in front of me. (I measured the distance in the winter).
Two weeks ago I watched a drake swim by along that bank going upstream. Was mama mallard going downstream because the effort would be too great for her brood to fight the current? She wasn’t concerned about food coming down to them on the current. She simply had them out for first swimming lessons.
Now here comes a drake swimming along that same bank going downstream. And there is a brother drake following him. They are a half mile behind her now. They perhaps have no connection with her.
I am pleased with the amount of waterfowl life on the river this year. For several summers I saw almost no waterfowl here. The Audubon folks suggested that another part of the river may have been having the waterfowl during those summers.
I scoffed at that idea a bit. But now I realize that this riparian area is evolving. All of nature is constantly evolving. This place where I have sat in the spring and fall for the past seven years has evolved. And as the floral has evolved, the fauna has evolved as well.
I remember on Templar Point on Leech Lake 60 years ago we saw the American redstart every summer, lots of them. Then they disappeared.
An ornithologist suggested to me that the habitat may have changed them on Templar Point and it was no longer suitable for the redstart. I scoffed at that, too. But . . .
A deep blue sky today is spotted with fleecy little cumulus clouds today. I see a little boy in a toy racer car scooting across the sky from south to north discretely in front of me. And there is a white fish leaping out of a blue sea. But I must keep an eye on them. For even as song sparrow sings to me in the background, my cloud fancies are rapidly evolving into other dream pictures.
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.