Threshold of a Spring Forthcoming

Initially my reasoning for applying for memberships to birding social media sites from Missouri and Iowa was to enjoy photographs birders presented, and in particularly for Missouri Birders. A few years ago we had just visited the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge in Northwest Missouri where we saw hundreds of thousands of Snow Geese, hundreds of swans and enough eagles to grab your attention. Compared to our home Big Stone NWR, or even the nearby Sand Lake NWR in South Dakota, there was no comparison in the number of birds to see in this slough-ish backwater of the Missouri River near Forest City.

Last spring I added the Iowa Birding, also found on the social media site. Now, though, those two sites are adding something I simply hadn’t anticipated … a threshold of a coming of Spring. This began about a month ago near the calendar page of February as we were buried deeply beneath another blizzard. Images coming from Loess Bluffs and other areas of the Show Me state were offering a semblance of hope as the Snow Geese were offering blizzards of promises that in time this long winter would become the tales of woe for years to come.

Now a month later, similar images are being posted in Iowa Birding. We’ll be next.

So, yes, they’re coming. Spring is on the way even as we face another dismal forecast of snow and wind! 

Sandhill Cranes descending on a central Nebraska plan.

In anticipation, a few weeks ago I was able to secure a three day special package with Crane Trust in central Nebraska to once again photograph the Sandhill Crane migration. I simply couldn’t wait to see bare ground. Moving waters. Birds in migration. We’ll be guided in a special grouping of photographers around the Platte both before dawn and after sunset in search of pleasing imagery. 

This will be my third Sandhill migration. The first was truly an out of mind experience when the birds by the thousands landed in the shallow waters less than half a football field away from our plywood box of a blind. It  hadn’t begun that way for it seemed the birds were intent to fly downriver for another mile or so. My companion cautioned patience, figuring there were many more birds to the east that would most likely glide from the heavens to land in front of us. She was right, and the music they sang through the night was straight out of a distant  geological past. I count that night as one of three other-worldly experiences of my lifetime … the jungle-like sounds at the Sabine NWR in western Louisiana and the waling grunts of walruses at “haul out” rookery in the sea north of  Juneau, Alaska. All sounds you can’t forget.

With any luck with weather and migratory patterns, I may return home a little over a week from now just in time to see the huge Snow Geese migration right here in the western Minnesota prairie. A couple of years ago thousands claimed a near week-long stop over in the wetland just over the rise from my Listening Stones prairie to offer all sorts of wonderful imagery. There were a couple of promising attractions offered the huge flock at the time; that the wetland was thawed and the corn stubble my neighboring farmer had left standing to offer a promise of food.

Getting up close and personal is among the joys of the Sandhill migration. Especially in their courting jestures.

If not here, though, other nearby areas offer promise. About an hour north is a Red River Valley flood control project called North Ottawa Impoundment in Grant County, a bit southwest of Fergus Falls, where the Snows  and other migrating birds seem to congregate every spring. A point for accuracy: I’ve actually never made it to the impoundment for the Snows because typically a massive flock will congregate closer to home. Someone described the ascent and/or descent of the huge flocks of Snows as a feeling of standing inside a snow globe, all with the cacophony of their special music. More trumpet like than of violins.

Back in February my nephew in NE Missouri posted photos of a huge flock in one of his harvested grain fields. A few years ago  he made prints of an early migration that hang in our family’s old farmhouse kitchen. I can only imagine how happy this would have made my mother, a lover of nature and wild things, and who is perhaps the one most responsible for my own appreciation of nature. 

A sunrise from my Listening Stones prairie of the Snow Geese in flight.

We’ve had a long, hard winter, and having the pheasants, deer and wild turkeys nearby in and near Big Stone Lake State Park have created a deep appreciation of their hardships and survival skills. One warm and sunny afternoon of late we drove up the hill from Bonanza onto the flat prairie to find a several deer lazing on a snowy meadow before we passed an enclave of wild turkeys meandering along, and just as we neared the state highway, a half dozen pheasants were hovering around a patch of grass in the roadway ditch. What a revered moment in the middle of February, a reprieve from a month of tremendous stress for all three species. And, it seemed as if on this one warm afternoon there was hardly a care in the world. Even our drive by barely caused a ripple of concern. It seemed for them, and for us, a prelude of seasonal change. It turned out to be little more than a cruel hint!

Now in the midst of March I can look back through my years of nature photography and find Wood Ducks scouting through the Listening Stones woodland in search of a nesting tree, and of seeing murmurations of Redwing Blackbirds causing red blurs on the wing. Thanks, though, to the birder sites in the states due south, there is ample evidence that Spring and the birds are on the way. The images of the Snows have mostly departed from the Missouri site and has moved north into Iowa. Hopefully in a few days or weeks the incredible bird photographer Wayne Perala, of Fergus Falls, and many others of us will be adding to the national birder’s collage of Snow Geese moments.

Ah, yes … taken in my backyard of the Snows flushing from the wetland.

As special as seeing the Sandhills in Nebraska, the inner umbrella sketchings of Snow Geese skeins will stretch across the heavens in all directions like a child’s drawing, and it all happens right here on our own backyard. All of it is wonderful, from the Nebraska Sandhills to the Snows and Redwings; all those species that simply drop in for a momentary stop at the feeder on their way through. Each, and all, are truly special and welcomed. 

As much as watching the sprouting of wildflowers in the Spring is thoroughly appreciated, migrating birds offer us both a special mystery and blessings with their arrivals. We’ll embrace them as much as hearing those first sounds of a trickling stream …  all sounds of life moving forward as our winter vanishes into a storied past. Joy rests on our threshold of a Spring forthcoming.

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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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