For the Birds Radio Program: Spring!

Original Air Date: April 15, 1996

Signs of spring are bringing hope and joy right when we need it. (3:20) Date verified.

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There’ s finally definite proof that spring is here–so far I’ve seen Canada Geese, grackles and robins gadding about town and heard my first kinglet of the season. Ring-billed Gulls are everywhere and through the grapevine I’ve heard about woodcock, Great Blue Herons, and plenty of waterfowl.

Any year we’ re grateful for signs of spring, and after a harsh winter like this year’s, we’re downright elated. When I walk my little guy Tommy to the bus stop each morning, even he gets excited to hear the chickadees singing away, and he’ s not a birdwatcher. The only one in my family who seems at all upset to see the snow melting is my emergency back up dog Betsy–she had been blithely walking out of the yard all winter, with the snow piled up above the fence line, but as the snow recedes now she’s having to jump higher and higher to scale the fence.

My favorite evidence of spring came last week, when I met premier Boreal Owl expert Steve Wilson for a night of birding. Starting at 7:00, we went gallivanting around Lake County listening at dozens of stops, our ears straining to hear a Boreal Owl–or any other owl for that matter. This winter has been horrible for owls, and few of the survivors have the energy to even think about breeding yet, but we were hopeful checking out stop after stop. It was perfectly silent–we didn’t even hear a Great Horned or Barred Owl–but the cornet was bright in the sky, and the moonlit snow glistened magically. But celestial wonders faded as the silence of the night continued. By midnight, we were feeling a little discouraged, and by two I was almost ready to give up , but no way did l want to be the first one to suggest quitting, so we kept on until after three , when Steve’ s sharp ears suddenly picked up a tiny sound off in the distance–a whisper sound beyond the distance of conjecture. We jumped in Steve’s truck and drove a half mile closer, where I could finally hear it. A snowmobile trail went directly toward the bird, so we hiked along it, then donned snowshoes and crept up on the tiny singer. He sang two or three times, sometimes even more, but then went long minutes before singing again as we snuck up on him . We came really close, but by then the moon was too low to make much light and neither of us was inclined to trouble the poor little survivor by shining a light on him– we were perfectly happy to enjoy his song a while and then leave him in peace. Steve did locate a hole in an aspen that looked right–he later verified that as the nest hole. A week later, when Kim Eckert and Steve were leading a large group from the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union, the owl’s calls lured in a female, and the two of them flew together, him calling and her whistling, in front of the transfixed birders. Yes, owls are in love, and spring is really here.