“Leaving the Nest”
By Boak Wiesner
May is the time of fecundity around these parts. (Metaphorically, a “Sea of Fecundity” came to mind but it was inapt as, of course, the Mare Fecunditatis is a lava flow on the southeast part of the Moon. And hardly visible today as the Moon wanes.)
It is the time of year of nestlings and fledglings and me, as a teacher, I see this year’s crop of seniors coming soon to graduation, ready to leave the nest, try out their wings, and fly away. Have they learned the lessons that I have taught them? How is knowledge transmitted from one generation to the next? How do young birds learn how to find food, to find mates, to make nests themselves?
It may not always be from parents or teachers but sometimes from others. For me, rather like a young wolf, it was none of these but first my brother-in-law that passed the spark of nature knowledge on to me. Seeing Maidenhair Fern reminds me of him. It was the first fern I learned to identify. I can hear him now as he quizzed me: “You want your bride to have this.”
One lesson I endeavor to pass on to my own students is to use all the senses when outdoors “experiencing” nature. As luck would have it, I forgot my binoculars at school today so I was provided the opportunity to use all the senses myself as I went into the ravine and listen for whatever presented. Since it was rather breezy in the forest today, the susurrus of the wind in the trees combined with the background thrum of the evening traffic on the highway and the jets setting up for landing overhead let only the “rowdy” birds get heard. “Here I am, over here, see me!”
Red-eyed Vireos were calling as well as Goldfinches, Crows, and Great-crested Flycatchers: “Wheeeep!” A buzzy “Zzzzzzt” and oak trees around let me know Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were back. We are indebted to Roger Tory Peterson for creating human speech phrases to learn bird songs. A Harvard audiologist once tested Peterson’s hearing and declared it the most acute he had ever encountered. Really!
A glance upward revealed an Indigo Bunting. As I had no binoculars, my students would’ve called me out: “How do you know that?” Hence, 1. Hardwood trees – preferred habitat; 2. A small bird that looks from below all-over dark, which is what a dark blue bird would look like from underneath, because as nearly all animals are light below and dark above, called countershading, this is rare; 3. A smidgen of lighter tan on the edges of the tail. Voila! An Indigo Bunting!
Mourning Cloaks have hatched out so look for many of them winging around the woods. There are way fewer butterflies to learn in a given place than birds so if you have a limited time for “nature”, go for them. A county in Minnesota usually has fewer than 40 species. Monarchs, Viceroys, Whites, Sulphurs, Red Admirals, and Azures: use those binocs, when you remember them, of course, to identify these.
Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist volunteer.