For the Birds Radio Program: End of Spring

Original Air Date: June 1, 2000 (estimated date)

Spring migration is intense but fleeting.

Duration: 4′30″


As May, 2000, drew to a close, I thought about how fleeting that glorious month is every year. Just as the earth is finally greening up after a northern winter, migrants pour in to partake of the new season’s abundance. There are days when my backyard is festooned with warblers, and birdsong fills the air from before the first light of dawn until the sun goes down. Even during a lull in migration the neighborhood robins, House Wrens, Brown Thrashers, and Song Sparrows sing throughout the day, and just about anytime I look, I see a hummingbird or two zipping about in my blossoming crabapple tree.

When migration is in full tilt, I spend each day that I’m home running in and out, trying to see as many birds in my yard as I can; when I’m out of town, I savor migration in other places. I spent the second week of the month near Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where I saw the first huge wave of orioles, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, hummingbirds, and warblers coursing through that side of Wisconsin. I spent May 20th doing a Big Day, covering as much ground as I could between the Sax-Zim Bog and Duluth, seeing 139 species in 21 solid hours of birding. And suddenly it was Memorial Day. I started the day with a morning’s walk in Port Wing, and then, after family festivities, I stopped by Roy Johnson’s lovely wetland in Cloverland. In between holiday and family things, I tallied 91 species of birds that day, with loons and blue jays streaming overhead, small flocks of American Redstarts in every stand of trees, and a host of birds establishing their breeding territories.

Spring migration is full of riches, from soulfully homey little wrens to spiritually uplifting thrushes, and we can either run pell-mell, grabbing what we can, or plan an approach to maximize the fruits of this fleeting and finite set of days. We can’t stop the passage of time, but with planning and flexibility we can enjoy the best this lovely season holds for us.

As beautiful and intense as May birding can be, that month is also filled with events incompatible with birding, from school concerts and awards ceremonies to mundane responsibilities like housework and shopping. Kids have to finish their end-of-the-year assignments and take finals regardless of how many warblers fill the air, and spring fever, flu viruses, and hectic schedules make this a hard time for them-a time when even an Eagle Scout needs his mom. No matter how important birds may be in our lives, kids are held much higher in our thoughts and more deeply in our hearts, their day-to-day wishes and needs more pressing than even the most glorious migration.

Childhood is every bit as fleeting as migration, but unlike migration you don’t get a clean start next year. Perhaps the greatest gift of spring migration is in its rhythms-we have the assurance that next year we’ll have a fresh opportunity to enjoy the season’s abundance so day to day even in May we can also enjoy the other treasures in our lives. As May proceeds into June, we savor the huge variety of birds that nest right here in the northland even as we plan activities to share with our children during that all-too-brief summer vacation. Season after season we travel through our lives with our children, our families, our treasured friends, our work and our play, as birds come and go, and the things we focus on, whether through our binoculars or in our day to day lives, are the things that give our stay on earth its passion and meaning.