peak monarch migration

I found this one and a few others fueling up across the street just now. Higher than usual numbers are traveling south through the eastern U.S., and apparently avoiding the dry Midwest on their way to Mexico. Let’s hope they make it, despite an even longer trip.

© 2012 S. D. Stewart

spotlight on bobolinks!

© 2010 Andrea Westmoreland

Male Bobolink in breeding plumage, Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, Volusia County, Florida.

Image Courtesy of Andrea Westmoreland, licensed under Creative Commons

Somewhere in a field just north and west of here a bobolink sings. If I quiet my mind enough I can almost hear it, even though I’ve so far only heard recordings. Sometimes called rice bird, butter bird, skunk blackbird, or meadow-wink, the male bobolink sings a jubilant song that has frequently been likened to the robotic voice of R2D2 in the Star Wars films. Unique in many ways, the bobolink is one of only a few species that goes through a complete molt of its feathers twice each year. The male bobolink in its breeding plumage is a most striking bird! Yet through molting for the winter it comes to resemble the much drabber female.

Twice each year, bobolinks undertake one of the longest migrations of any songbird. They winter in central South America and spend their breeding season in the northern United States and parts of southern Canada. Originally a prairie-dwelling species of the Midwestern U.S., bobolinks adapted to breeding on agricultural land and were thus able to expand their summer range. Once killed by the thousands by rice farmers in the southeast U.S., these birds are now considered to be beneficial to American farmers due to their primarily insect-based diet during the breeding season. However, loss of farmland and changes in agricultural practices over the years have led to a steep decline in bobolink nesting habitat. Meanwhile, on their wintering grounds, a shift toward rice production has made the bobolink an enemy of South American farmers. Regrettably they are not protected there by law as they have been in the United States since the Migratory Bird Act of 1918. In the past bobolinks were also served as food in restaurants, and continue to be a delicacy in Jamaica, where they earned their “butter bird” nickname, a reference to the heavy fat content of the birds when they arrive there on stopovers during their long migration.

The bobolink has long been a nemesis bird of mine, along with a few other field-dwelling species. As one who rarely travels far to watch birds, I am restricted to what habitat is nearby. Unfortunately, appropriate field habitat is not plentiful in my usual birding grounds. Searching for field birds also typically involves a lot of driving around and pulling off on narrow road shoulders in an effort to catch glimpses of species that seem to thrive on playing hide-and-seek in the shelter of their grassy living quarters. This is not my preferred method of birding. That said, there have been recent reports of bobolinks northwest of here, and I may set out this weekend once again to find this elusive and intriguing bird.

shadow forecaster

The wind rises and scatters my attention span. How to greet a late January day warmed to the low 60s on the Fahrenheit scale? I feel a twinge of guilt enjoying it, knowing how unnatural it is and wondering much of this is our fault. Birds are migrating sooner, only to find food not yet abundant in their summer haunts. Southern insects are expanding their ranges northward. [Gardeners, take note!] Mother Nature’s long-established cues are failing her denizens. Are these little and not-so-little signs of impending ecological collapse? Perhaps. It would make sense. And surely we deserve it. Too long have we moved at the speed of profit, with blinders plastered to our fat heads. Our slavering consumerist jaws know no bounds. We think with our wallets, and we don’t remember any other way. We forgot how to mend and learned instead how to slide cards through readers. The problem is colossal in scale. The solutions too little, too late. So maybe all we can do now is pull up some chairs and wait for the end of this chapter of life on our planet. Bleak, perhaps, but it could just be my shadow speaking out again. Some days I let it do all my talking for me, and I just sit back and stare at the clouds.

hello october my old friend

Overhead geese honk against gun metal gray sky. I yearn to fly with them, wherever they are headed. Rooted to one spot but still rootless I remain. Is this some flaw of mine, or of my chosen substrate. And so the geese tempt me once again. The primal urge to shift with the seasons, in body as in mind. I wonder will it haunt me to the end of my allotted days.

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