The rapid whistling of the downy woodpecker greets me this early morning as I settle in by the slowly-receding flooded Red River. Papa downy is calling for a mama downy to fit in with fast-approaching Mother’s Day.
To add to the chorus, papa chickadee joins in with his high-low whistle to summon a prospective mama chickadee. He and his kind, however, have been busy for a week or two already, as I’ve seen a pair of them busy at a nesting hole a week ago, preparing a nest for them to be in a family way.
A dozen chickadees clustered in a berry tree nearby for a few minutes, apparently finding something to eat. It is curious why some breeds cluster more than others.
The ornithologist John Grant reminds us that in these early days in May our little ground-feeding friends, the juncos, take off for the north, finding the cooler climes more to their liking in summer weather. I notice that he indicates no migration arrival time, which suggests that in some parts of the country the junco is a winter resident. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. Grant is more of an Easterner. The perky little junco is a friendly visitor to this part of the country for a few weeks in the spring, from my estimation. Perhaps the experts will tell me he is included in the winter bird count. Later: I discover he is not in the winter bird count.
I become intrigued with the possibility of identifying birds by the character of their flight. Sometimes that’s all we have to help ID them.
At times I find myself identifying them at a distance as they are in flight and saying to myself, “That’s a woodpecker — no, that’s a robin.” At other times I’ll say by observing their flight at a distance, “That’s a crow,” or “That’s a mallard.” A black figure silhouetted against the sky may be all that we have to assist us.
I’d like to be able to say with some confidence, “That’s a crow,” or “That’s a rock dove.” (That’s a plain old pigeon, if you don’t want to talk fancy. I expect that confidence will only come with practice.
I can’t help sharing an anecdote on a recent experience with the rock dove on a neighbor’s property. I’m impressed how aggressive this creature is.
The city cut down recently a huge maple that had been hopelessly chopped to pieces in its upper branches to accommodate high wires. The tree had become the annual home to rock doves. The doves had readily adapted by moving in under the eaves of our neighbors’ house, hacking holes in the soffits. The neighbors readily adapted by covering the soffits with tin.
Apparently the doves took a dim view of this, as they readily adapted by tearing open the tin and going on nesting. Did they have eggs or babies in there and their brooding instincts made aggressive adaptors out of them? That’s all we know for now. Stay tuned for the next thrilling episode of “The Attack of the Rock Doves.”
I’m now on a hunt for the first tree buds. Green ash seems like a lead runner. I was examining the ash but then realized it is first the flower, and then the leaves. So I had a good look at the flower and before long, we will see the winged fruit.
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.