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Blane Klemek column: Bird migration is on: Time to hang the feeders

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I miss the days when I lived and worked at Wetlands, Pines and Prairie Audubon Sanctuary, now called Audubon Center of the Red River Valley and Omdahl Arboretum.

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During my two years managing this beautiful wildlife refuge and environmental education center, I lived a relatively carefree life when going to work was nothing more than walking across the yard to the office.

Since then, which was already 12 years ago, two other managers have come and gone and a third, Heidi Hughes, now manages and directs activities there. Heidi has already done many good things at the Audubon Center. Her vision, her enthusiasm, and her “can do” attitude are putting the Sanctuary back on the map.

Also since my leaving there, the Agassiz Valley Water Resource Management Project has become fully operational. The project, which is four-square-mile water impoundment designed for flood relief, is doubling as a major attractant to scores of birds, mostly waterfowl and shorebirds.

Moreover, droves of wildlife enthusiasts are beginning to flock to this attraction to observe migrating birds feeding, resting, and staging at this stopover. Indeed, the benefits of this project are being realized through flood mitigation, wildlife benefit, and ecotourism. Along with the adjacent Audubon Center, the area is the Red River Valley’s “diamond-in-the-rough.”

Speaking of gems, I really have been enjoying the fall colors of this early autumn.

I don’t ever recall a fall where the leaves have turned from green to gold so early. The colors, seemingly overnight, have turned into the vivid rainbow spectrum we enjoy so well. Perhaps the flush of color is because of an early spring and an enduring drought, but whatever the reason, there’s no doubt that fall is upon us once again.

It won’t be long when flocks of dark-eyed juncos and white-crowned sparrows will begin streaming into the countryside. Juncos are animated little birds that I love to observe. One can often watch the active birds scratch in the lawn like miniature chickens as they search for something to eat.

Visits from these migrants always remind me that winter is coming and that it would be a good idea to stock up on some birdseed and suet, hang another feeder or two, and perhaps build a new one. Over the years I have learned that not all birds appreciate the hanging tube-type feeders. Some, like juncos and blue jays, will only take seed from the ground or from platform-type feeders or fly-through feeders.

There’s something about birds and watching them that I find absolutely thrilling.

Just the other day while walking to the lake I watched as a flock of black-capped chickadees flew into the birch treetops above me. “Dee, Dee, Dee, Dee,” they called.

Delighted to have the company, I replied softly a “pishing” sound, which stirred several of them to come and have a closer look at me standing on the ground below.

One bold little fellow came within just a couple of feet from my smiling face. I could clearly see its throat expand and contract with each of its vocalizations. A nearby chickadee called back, then another, and another, when it seemed that the entire tree was a “Dee, Dee, Dee-ing.” The inquisitive little bird nearest to me erected the feathers on its head each time one of its flock-mates called. The action kind of reminded me of when we humans raise our eyebrows.

I’ve often wondered what the world would be like without birds. In just the past week I watched as a pair of ravens flew together and abruptly plummet several dozen feet, still together, only to right themselves at the last possible moment and alight in a tree. They repeated this act several times until they saw me walking along the field’s edge. Each of them made a couple of passes overhead, craning their heads around and looking me.

On a recent night when I let the dog outside, I decided to follow after him to view the starlit sky. Dark and cool, I could still see my vaporized breath hang in the air and float away like small puffs of clouds. Standing in the yard under the stars, I listened to the low muffled hoots of a great horned owl. I never observed the bird, but I imagined it perched on a bare limb overlooking a favorite hunting spot.

A lot of bald eagle sightings have added some excitement to my morning commutes, too. I mostly see the birds, mature and immature alike, dining on deer that apparently were hit by vehicles. Seeing these enormous birds is an amazing sight, especially when viewed so closely.

I’ve also seen broods of nearly full-grown wild turkeys, have delighted in the company of rafts of coots while I harvested wild rice with friends, have appreciated my first nesting pair of red-bellied woodpeckers all spring and summer at home, have marveled at large flocks of Canada geese roosting on the little lake behind my house, and have been pleased to see trumpeter swans on almost every body of water I look at these days.

For sure, as I continue to experience the wonderful days and nights of the coming autumn months – no matter where I might be – I will most definitely miss the panoramic and endless skies surrounding Wetlands, Pines and Prairie Audubon Sanctuary. Such moments will remind me of the times I stood awestruck at flock after flock of high-flying migrating waterfowl streaming overhead as cold northern tailwinds pushed them all southward.

The migration is on. It’s time to hang the feeders. And It’s time to view nature and appreciate its endless wonders as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

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BLANE KLEMEK is a Minnesota DNR wildlife manager. He can be reached at bklemek@yahoo.com.

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