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Archive for the ‘Bird Migrations’ Category

Up North 3

Christmas was beautiful.  Nothing on earth can match the Wonder which came from above, took on human flesh, died, was resurrected, and dwells with us in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit—God Himself.  Great is Thy Faithfulness.

And now we are moving into what is, for me, an exciting time.  Since winter solstice, when we had eight hours and fifty-nine minutes of daylight here in Nashotah, Wisconsin, we have gained THREE MINUTES of daylight.  THREE MINUTES.  Great is Thy faithfulness, indeed!  Every year at this time, I experience a surge which continues to expand in increments as the daylight increases.

I can handle winter, and find the snow (which we have finally received) to be gorgeous—even though I no longer roll in it the way I once did.  Our corgi, Dylan, rolls in the snow.  Living with the cold is do-able because: a)  I love Wisconsin through sickness and health, till death do us part; b) Joe and I are blessed with a cozy, warm home; and c)  There is plenty of wool around here in the form of blankets, and also wearable art—the fruit of this woman’s endless knit-omania.

I live with the cold, but find decreased daylight to be a piece of work.  Often I wonder if diminished daylight challenges my soul because I was summer-born.  Likewise, is the post-Christmas energy surge due to increased moments of daylight creating a chemical reaction in the brain, or do I begin to get hyper because of past experience and my knowledge of seasonal changes?

A 19th century ornithologist, Johann Andreas Naumann, noted that caged migratory birds exhibit migratory restlessness (Zugunruhe) and turn to the direction of migration at appropriate times, in response to circannual rhythms.  Can human instincts have remained so finely tuned as those of birds, despite our centuries of civilization and cultural conditioning?

The exercise of pondering moot questions never grows old.  As I plug in a CD from our large collection of Celtic music, I wonder if it’s “ethnic memory” that causes my blood to throb and my body to move involuntarily to the music.  Irish Celtic, yes.  And Scottish Celtic?  Well, the shrieking of bagpipes* sends me into orbit like no other sound except that of a train whistle.  God willing, “Amazing Grace” will thunder via pipes and a piper in kilts at my Going Home Celebration when the time comes.

Here is my known ethnicity, although most of my people came to this continent so long ago that I might logically be considered “American”.  My father’s ancestors were Swiss and Alsatian, and my mothers—Scottish and Northern Irish.  The Northern Irish were Scots to begin with, but they were sent by the English Crown from the Scottish Borders to “Protestant-ize” Northern Ireland.**

Now I have loved both of my parents and always will, with equal loyalty.  They were, and always will be, great individuals for whom I’m eternally grateful.  I am pleased to have received, via the gene pool, some of my Dad’s traits along with some of Mother’s.

But yodeling?  Big in the Swiss Alps, I know—but a yodel simply does nothing whatsoever for my soul, regardless of the skill with which it may be performed.  Line a yodel up against Celtic fiddles, Celtic harps, or Scottish bagpipes and I’m sorry but you don’t even have a hint of a contest. 

So why do The Irish Rovers, The Chieftans, and others of their ilk throw me over the moon?  It cannot be from childhood exposure, as we never had that kind of music in my home of origin.  Music was classical (which I continue to love).  My mother was a gifted pianist and I was raised on Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Schubert, etc.

For lighter moments we had the comic operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan and some old folk songs such as The Londonderry Air.  But the squealing, banging, and thumping of The Chieftains, and the robust, earthy tunes of the Irish Rovers would never have made it to 85 Park Street and other places where I once lived and breathed and had my being.  My mother was tremendously delighted with her Campbell of Argyll roots, but I don’t recall her doing cartwheels to bagpipes.  So do I squeal, bang, and thump to the Chieftans because of ethnic memory, or is this response simply an acquired taste?

And whether chemically driven or just a matter of understanding how the seasons progress, my passion for lengthening days is far from moot.  It’s a tangible reality which inspires a hymn of praise:  “Great is Thy faithfulness, oh God our Father.”

Margaret L. Been —  December 31st, 2015.

*I love the humorous bit of lore shared by an Irish storyteller at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest:  “The Irish gave the bagpipes to the Scots, but the Scots ‘didn’t get it’.”

**Regardless of Northern Irish roots, my sympathies have always been with the long-suffering and now Republic of Ireland.

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Boreal Twilight

I love “North”.  In fact, I titled the above recent painting “Boreal Twilight”.  But I know that “boreal” really refers to much further North—like areas where they have perhaps 5 hours of daylight in the Winter and a “midnight sun” in Summer.  I’ll settle for Wisconsin’s extremes, thank you! 

Meanwhile, those who have not always lived in Wisconsin, might not be able to track with me these days when I say (exuberantly!) “It’s Spring!”  That’s because they are apt to misconstrue the word “Spring” to mean flowers and rapidly rising temperatures.  They don’t realize that Spring is not a matter of weather, but rather it has to do with lengthening daylight. 

In our latitude, every January we pin our hearts to the rising and setting of the sun.  By the vernal equinox (which was March 20th this year) our hearts are fairly leaping because it’s finally Spring.  The sun knows, and so do we! 

Those who think Spring means “warm” can’t seem to equate a murky, cold wet day in March with the same euphoria I experience on such occasions.  These are the days when there’s an ever-so-slight warming—although one cannot feel it due to that damp Lake Michigan chill which, in our area, penetrates to our very bones.  But we natives know about the slight warming, and so do the returning bird migrations.  The migratory birds look for open water to access near their nesting sights.  Thus the March murk will undoubtedly result in some degree of melting in rivers and at the edges of our inland lakes.

We are surrounded by water in our neighborhood, and the return of birds—including waterfowl—is signature to our Spring rejoicing.  Canada Geese (the large ones which migrate; smaller varieties now stick around all winter, in melted industrial park ponds) may be the first we see in the sky.  Their welcoming chant is absolutely intoxicating.  Many “Vs” in the sky fly with an agenda—that of going further North, to nest in wild places such as we called “home” for years.  Others pause, to party in local ponds along the way.  The Geese feed in fields en route, so their lives do not necessarily depend on open water.

The Sandhill Cranes return early, with their muted, rolling “Halloo, Halloo, Halloo” high in the sky.  This week we spotted a Crane in a near-by cornfield.  Cranes can feed on corn gleaned from last autumn’s harvest, and thus they can also afford to return early.

Later the Great Blue Herons will return.  We have many which fly over our park constantly, all Summer.  They must have fish on which to feed, so their rookeries are always located near rivers and lakes.  They are the noisy, squawky aviators—along with many varieties of ducks which return to open water.  Ducks either feed on fish or aquatic plants, depending on what kind of Ducks they are, so we’ll need to wait awhile to see them overhead.

Finally (now my “up-North” memories are kicking in) the Swans return.  We had Tundra Swans in our Northern bay every Spring—11 of them one memorable year.  Smaller swans have traditionally nested in a couple of our Southern Wisconsin county’s lakes.  But I recently heard that the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) put their formidable kabash on swans in one of our small lakes, because some of the songbirds were gone missing.  I appreciate the DNR when they try to recover wildlife from man’s damage—but will they ever learn to leave well enough alone when it comes to natural balance?  They always seem to have to get their sticky little paws into things.  Is this a power issue, or what?

So Spring has to do with the return of the birds, as well as the sun—something that Wisconsin natives understand.  And we know that premature warmth is seldom a good thing!  Last year we had a tragic Spring.  Temperatures warmed up too quickly.  March had nights above freezing, which meant that our maple syrup crop was almost nil.  The rising sap depends on days above 32° F, and nights well below.  Warm nights just won’t do.  So while some were rejoicing over a warm March, we natives knew that conditions did not bode well for maple syrup. 

Likewise, April of 2012 was almost like Summer.  We natives could not get overly excited, because we knew that the unseasonable warmth would spell trouble.  Accordingly, fruit and nut bearing trees blossomed way too soon, and inevitably a frost came along to zap the blossoms.  Result?  A dirth of fruit and nuts. 

I sorrowed over the fact that our park chestnut tree looked wimply all Summer (which was horrendously hot and dry) and did not yield any of those beautiful mahogany nuts which I love to find on the ground in Autumn.  Park authorities tended to sick trees with bags of moisture and tree food, so there is hope for my favorite park tree.  Time alone will tell.

Having said all of the above, I do have a concession to make.  I really am looking forward to warmer sun.  I have a penchant for dark skin, and last Summer with all the dry heat, I (or rather the sun) accomplished the best tan I’ve ever had in 79 years.  Now I admit that an older person who has spent a lifetime indulging in sun on skin will look quite wood grainy, and yes I do

Also an individual—if naturally a paled, Northern European skin type—may be subject to cancers from an overdose of sunbathing, and yes I am.  I’ve had several basil cells plus one malignant melanoma.  But to me, sunbathing is not a negotiable activity.  I will indulge in sunshine until I check out.  What the sun does for my soul far outweighs any damage it can do to my skin.  🙂

So there it is.  Happy Spring—whatever that may mean to you!

P. S.  My “stats” page shows that today I’m getting a lot of visitors on this blog, from Australia!  Today there have been nearly 3 times more visits from Australia than from the USA!  And you are getting ready for winter!

Normally, the visitors add up in this order:  A lot from USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, India, and Nigeria (partly due to the English language bond no doubt)—and less, but a substantial amount from nearly every country in the world.  It delights my heart to see Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, South Africa, Estonia, Romania, Czech Republic, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy (Italian readers seem to love the knitting entries), various Caribbean Islands, and many other locales. 

All my life I’ve loved reading about far away places, but I never dreamed I’d someday be communicating with people from other lands.  This thrills me to pieces.  I consider myself a “citizen of the world”!

Back to Down Under.  If there is any place in the world that I’d love to visit before I check out, it would be Australia—plus New Zealand.  I LOVE SHEEP, and raised my own spinner’s flock for nearly 20 years.  I spin a lot of wool, and your Merino is the best!   But also, your history fascinates me.   And two of my favorite films are MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER AND RETURN TO SNOWY RIVER.  The scenery and the horses cause me to view these classics again and again. 

Greetings to my Down Under Mates, and Happy Winter to you!  🙂  MLB

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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I couldn’t resist.  After tucking into our Saturday morning pancakes, my little red SONY® and I plowed through drifts and wandered in our park.  I was besotted with the abject beauty, which SONY faithfully recorded for me.

From this snowy scramble, I clipped three small shoots of red osier dogwood which are now set into flower frogs in a Victorian transferware pitcher.  Soon the shoots will sprout tiny buds and leaves, and we’ll be on our way to the very next thing:  SPRING.

Much as we anticipate Spring, we can never deny or ignore the charms of the season at hand—although yesterday was a good day to celebrate the season at home rather than on the roads.  I may tire of winter, but I never grow weary of living in Wisconsin.

Early this morning I updated my WordPress Profile—so that whenever my Gravatar is clicked, my five blog sites will appear for readers’ easy access.  While on the Profile page I wondered if I should change the Northern Reflections’ explanatory blurb, which presently reads:  “gleanings from Wisconsin’s wild rivers, lakes, marshes, and woods”. 

When I began blogging in Autumn, 2008, we were firmly entrenched in our far Northern lifestyle of living on 14 plus acres surrounded by a plethora of wildness including black bears, wolves, fishers, more Virginia whitetails than people, and all kinds of winged life.  Eagles soared over constantly year around—and our marsh, lake, and river abounded in waterfowl and songbirds in spring and summer. 

Now we live in Southern Wisconsin, in a semi-rural area with easy access to Milwaukee.  Yet we are still surrounded by wildlife. Only the bears, wolves, fishers, and eagles are missing here—although eagles have been sighted in our county and somehow a very hapless black bear wandered into the Milwaukee suburban area a few years back.  There has been cougar evidence just a few miles north of us in Hartford—and coyotes roam the bountiful Milwaukee Parkway System, terrorizing small dogs and their owners.

Yes, we have wild rivers, lakes, marshes, and woods all over our state—even in our Southern county.  In fact, we live in the middle of the Lake Country with water all around us.  Our home faces a park near Lake Nagawicka, with a wildlife sanctuary along the entire side leading to the lake.  Waterfowl and other large birds fly overhead constantly in spring, summer, and autumn:  great blue heron, ducks unlimited, and of course the Canada geese.  I’ve seen cattle egrets in farm pastures around here—and we have an abundance of hawks and owls. 

Any day now, we’ll hear that “Hallooo-hallooo-hallooo” of the sandhill cranes—like reedy bamboo pipes, rolling their notes with a French “R” while preparing to land in a swamp for some raucous partying before heading to the cornfields. (We actually did see cranes in a nearby cornfield yesterday, so they must be “Hallooo-ing” up there already.) 

When they land, the sandhills may possibly only be “out-raucoused” (if there is such a word) by the tundra swans who sound like Canada geese with asthmatic bronchitis.  But oh, that winsome flight song of the cranes, soothing as our bamboo windchimes rustling in the breeze.

Yes, I’m still gleaning Wisconsin’s wild places.  No matter where I live, I’m wildness, bred and born.  My mother knew the name of most every wildflower and bird, and my dad was a hunter who loved the out-of-doors.  Although a city, Wauwatosa, was my home for most of my growing years, I had an eight year interim in a small upstate community—and there I grew to love the quintessential Wisconsin small town. Precious childhood memories include hunting and fishing with my dad.  Although I hope I never have to shoot anything, I totally respect our local culture of hunters—responsible hunters, that is.  As a kid, I traipsed along behind my father when he went pheasant hunting along the fieldstone hedgerows of hilly Kettle Moraine North near Sheboygan Falls.  I still recall the woodsy, hilly beauty which grabbed ahold of me and never let go.

Summers were spent on water, which I was “in” as much as “out of”.  In our state, learning to swim is a huge GIVEN. It’s a matter of survival, as we are surrounded by rivers and lakes.  Wisconsin kids learn to swim along with learning to read, and often before.  Ever desiring to have a companion, and lacking a son, my dad taught me to fish at an early age as well. 

Yes, I believe I can continue to blog my “gleanings from Wisconsin’s wild rivers, lakes, marshes, and woods” even though I no longer live in the wild north.  Wisconsin’s wildness is an integral part of my soul.  And there is plenty of wildness within easy walking distance of our home!

“Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it.  We need the tonic of wildness—to wade sometimes in the marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe . . . At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed, and unfathomed by us because (it is) unfathomable.”  Henry David Thoreau, WALDEN

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

Note:  Below you will see my original copy of Thoreau, which I purchased in 1967.  A few years back I bought a new, hardcover edition of the book you see pictured here.  Same everything, but lacking in the ambience of my special dog eared book—with pages falling out, pages ripped, pages annotated by me, and pages flapping.  Time and again I try to read from the new hardcover, and then return to the old worn out copy I love best.

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One of the many advantages of living outside of cities is the ever-present panorama of sky.  At our northern home, we had sky over water.  Now, in Southern Wisconsin, we view the sky over a park and nature preserve.

This has been an odd summer around here, in that the really warm (sometimes HOT!) weather did not set in until July.  Everything is different from last summer.  Perennials which were mushrooming and spreading in May, 2010 never even made themselves known this summer until mid June.  

Consequently, the obvious harbingers of autumn are late in appearing.  Our neighorhood wild prairie has yet to flash in the sun with goldenrod; coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, and Queen Anne’s lace still flourish there.  The sumac along the park path barely hints at the glory it will soon display, whereas in most years the turning sumac leaves provide an early sign of change.

The cardinals still “cheer-cheer”, cheering my heart in the process.  Mourning doves still mourn their poignant “oooo-oooo-oooooo”, reminding me of catapulting years of mourning doves—since I was a small child, first thrilling to their threnody.  Every evening at dusk, a flock of sparrows roosts in the tree outside our bedroom window.  They chirp and rustle in the leaves and branches until dark.  Then all is still, until the first ray of dawn when the birds resume their chirping, and take off for another day of foraging. 

Flocking birds are a sign of seasonal change.  I treasure the busy little creatures who hang out in the tree beside our window, because at this point I do not want summer to end.  But end, it will! 

Meanwhile, the clouds clearly forecaste change—those famous clouds of August.  Due to changing air currents, temperatures, and moisture, August clouds are distinctive.  After a suddenly cooler night, the clouds are seen as mist rising off the ground in our park.  Up north the clouds rose off our lake in August and September, reminding us of the picturesque lochs we saw years ago when we traveled the back roads of the Scottish highlands.

Clouds of change!  We who live with four seasons (one of which seems a lot longer than the other three in Wisconsin!) are accustomed to change and ready for it.  Already I’ve done some shifting around of clothes in my closet, so that when the first brisk day arrives I’ll have something warmer at hand.   I’ve laundered the summer blankets and taken a wool blanket out of its cleaner bag. 

I’m preparing my heart for that blast of sheer beauty which Autumn brings—followed by the silent, white months.  But we can never be totally prepared for the metaphorical clouds of change in our personal lives.  Last year, as August whispered sweet promises around us, little did we know that we were about to enter a ten-month period of severe medical issues—with one emergency compounding another. 

We can never accurately predict our seasons of circumstances.  All we can do is remember that emergencies are Holy Ground.  God gets our attention and speaks to us through times of crisis.  All we can do is take off our metaphorical shoes and say “Yes, Lord, whatever You will shall be done.”

Actually, for the Christian all of life is Holy Ground.  To recognize that fact is to experience the peace of God’s indwelling Holy Spirit every day, regardless of whatever the clouds of change may bring!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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Hunkering on the mantel of our electric fireplace, beneath my Dad’s collection of arrowheads found around Aztalan, Wisconsin in the 1930s, you will see an assortment of clocks.  Every one registers a different time, and every one is correct two times a day.

In our fast pace culture, people are said to “live by the clock” (although today I think many live by their cell phones).  But Joe and I are not fast lane people.  Even during those decades when we had to frequently glance at a clock (an accurate one!), we were slow lane people.

For me, the clock that matters is not that attractive little timepiece on my wrist or bedside table.  The clock that matters is God’s clock—His sun which He moves faithfully across the sky century after century, eon after eon, to delineate the seasons.

Science has shown how migrating birds respond to the increase and decrease of daylight around God’s seasonal clock.*  Spring migrations move as the days grow longer.  A migration may be halted temporarily by wintery weather, but the impetus to move is solar generated. 

The birds do not dream of balmy breezes and lilac blooms; rather, they instinctively know when to move north and stake their mating territories in sync with accelerated daylight.  Thus, spring theoretically begins for migrating birds when the sun says “GO”.  This is in February around the Gulf of Mexico, Central America, or South America where our summer birds spend their winters. 

I’m like the birds, in some ways.  By mid January, more sunlight poured into our windows.  Now, by mid February, I sit outdoors in a sheltered sunny spot.  The sun grows higher and stronger every day, and in my heart it’s spring. 

Much as I totally love those intoxicating balmy breezes and lilac blooms which come in May, I don’t need them to experience the turn of a season.  Despite the probability of more snow storms, our February sunlight—rising ever higher as it moves north—is SPRING!  I can always bundle my body against the cold, yet feel that searing warmth and strength of God’s sun on my face. 

The entire progression of spring, beginning with increased daylight following the winter solstice, is exciting. Now we are having a thaw.  More snow may come, and we can savor its fleeting beauty because we know that the sun will continue to move northward according to God’s law! 

Soon we will hear the mourning dove’s “Whoo-whooo-whoo”, and the “cardinal’s “Cheer-cheer-cheer”, followed by the “Oka-reeeee!” of that evangelist, the redwing blackbird as he proclaims, “I am FREEEEE!”

Maple syrup days will come.  Thawing days and freezing nights raise the sap in us as well as in a sugarbush!  Then we’ll have a period, perhaps weeks, of cold rain—dreary to some, but tremendously exciting to me as the rain releases that fresh green fragrance from the earth. 

It’s all about spring!  “Cold and wet” are a huge part of spring in our land, and it’s wonderful!  Balmy breezes and lilacs are a long way off, but never mind.  I don’t need them at the moment, because I have the ever lengthening daylight.  God’s clock never fails.  God’s clock says “SPRING!”

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

*A fantastic resource of scientic info on bird migrations is found in THE SNOW GEESE, A Story of Home, by William Fiennes.  I read this recently published book (2002) two or three times every year.  The author weaves his touching personal story into a wealth of well-researched material on migrating birds.

NOTE:  Now you see him, now you don’t.  In the event that you visited this page recently and found Humphrey Bogart, and now are wondering where in the world he went, Humphrey has been moved to http://richesinglory.wordpress.com/  . 

I decided “Riches” was a more appropriate place for that entry.  🙂  MLB

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For weeks our home has been surrounded by silence—the silence of deep winter.  Only the whoosh of wind outside our windows, the whisper of sleet and snow, and the strident caw of hungry crows have broken the lifeless hush which set in around late November and continued through the darkest December days—into the new year.

But suddenly, last week, the silence broke.  Outside our bedroom window, we have an ornamental tree which has graced us with pink blossoms in spring, lush verdure and families of robins in summer, and lovely orange berries in fall and winter. 

Last week, the ornamental tree graced us with a flock of chickadees feasting on the berries, filling the gap of winter with their happy commotion of “chick-a-dee-dee-dee”.

I weep for joy when the birds and their songs come back.  Each day I go into semi-raptures over the cardinals in our front yard tree.  In just a matter of weeks, we will be “cheer-cheer-cheered” when the cardinals burst into territorial proclamations.

In about five weeks we will be able to make the hour trip south to Whitewater, Wisconsin, where we have traditionally seen the first returning redwings of the season.  Their “oka-reeeee” sends me into a state I cannot even begin to describe.

About the same time, the skies will fill with returning Canadas.  I will gaze upward, and wonder which ones are headed for our beloved northern home, to nest and raise their goslings along the Big Elk River around the bend from us.

And chortling robins.  And chattering sparrows.  And the joyous ringing of sand hill cranes overhead, sounding like hollow bamboo wind chimes on a gusty spring day.

Grace in the trees.  Grace in the skies!  Great is Thy faithfulness, O Lord!

© 2011, Margaret L. Been

P. S.  For a bit of funky fun, see “Frontal Lobes and Happy Genes!” on another one of my blogs:  http://northernview.wordpress.com/

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