For the Birds Radio Program: Fog

Original Air Date: May 27, 1987

Carl Sandburg may have known fog, but perhaps didn’t appreciate a true Duluth fog. Fortunately, birders do. (3:49)

Duration: 3′52″


Wonderful Fog

(Recording of a Veery)

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over the harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Carl Sandburg’s well-known poem may capture the ephemeral, almost wimpy nature of a Lake Michigan fog, but Mr. Sandburg obviously never experienced a Superior fog or surely he’d have written:

The fog stalks
on heavy tiger paws.
It sits,
suffocating the harbor and city
on silent haunches,
and never, ever moves on.

I returned from a trip to Chicago last week. When I left Duluth it was warm and sunny–almost like Chicago itself. But when I came back to a steady cold drizzle, thick, dreamy fog, and TV newscasters ignorantly decrying the weather, I knew I was home just in time. On Thursday, I tallied 18 different species of warblers in my backyard, without even working at it, and I brought my yard’s warbler count to 24 by Friday. How can anyone mourn the sunshine while watching the flaming orange and black markings of a Blackburnian Warbler through the mist? Or listening to its sweet, high lisp in the treetops?

(Recording of a Blackburnian Warbler)

Thrushes abound during a May shower. Whenever the rain fogged up my binoculars, I’d dry them off at my living room window watching Veeries and Swainson’s Thrushes running on my driveway and along Peabody Street. Thrushes often sing throughout a drizzly day–the hot sun silences them by midmorning on unpleasant, clear days. The song of a Veery would cheer even the most ardent sun worshipper.

(Recording of a Veery)

Swainson’s Thrush sings sort of a reverse Veery song.

(Recording of a Swainson’s Thrush)

That unfortunate mild weather we’ve had most of the spring has brought out many insects earlier than normal, and so the orioles in my neighborhood are not taking oranges at all. They mostly stay high in the treetops munching on bugs and singing. They’re hard to see, because the trees leafed out so early this year, but their rich whistle is unmistakeable.

(Recording of a Northern Oriole)

Shy Rose-breasted Grosbeaks seldom stay long at the feeder, but I hear them in the neighborhood often. Many people confuse their song with the robin’s, but they’re really quite easy to distinguish. The Robin sings long sentences made up of phrases of two or three syllables.

(Recording of a Robin)

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak’s sentences are long, too, but individual words or phrases aren’t easily distinguished.

(Recording of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak)

Yes, May in the Northland is filled with wonderful sights and sounds, if you don’t mind dressing warmly and wiping fog and drizzle off your glasses every few minutes, and if your neighbors don’t mind you peeking through their trees with binoculars.

(Recording of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”