Friday, January 9, 2009
an incredible act of nature
The geese are on the move. The skies are full of noisy flocks.
The local flocks are flying in close formations from lake to lake, scoping out the best possible nesting sights.
The migrating flocks are flying high and hard and fast, heading for their temporary resting place a few hundred miles north. One stop on their long trek north.
South Platte, Nebraska, where the North Platte River and the South Platte River come together to form a large area of wetlands, is one of the largest layover spots for migrating birds in North America. Here in Denver we are not in the center of the path of migration, many birds fly too high and fast to be seen easily and some travel at night. So the main indicators for me of this activity are the flocks of geese.
I have traveled to South Platte a few times to see the migration. I don't do it often enough. The highways between here and there can turn in a heartbeat from clear and dry to dangerous blizzards with drifts higher than a car. But the main reason is that my sense of spring approaching doesn't really come alive until mid March and by then the birds are gone.
The largest part of the annual migration arrives in early February. The lakes are frozen here, the ground inhospitable. I have to wonder about the landscape that these birds are hurrying toward. It surely can't be any more welcoming the farther north they travel.
The resting area in the wetlands is unbelievable. I once counted 70+ golden eagles in a bare cottonwood tree. One of hundred of trees around the ponds, each full of eagles.
I saw snow geese and swans so crowded together on ponds that I was reminded of overcrowded knick knack shelves.
Five foot tall sandhill cranes, so many in a cornfield that they surpass any crowded mall at Christmas time. Thousands and thousands of birds, as far as the eye could see. As I approached them, even though their legs are as long as mine, they did not walk away. They would make a small jump into the air, spread their enormous wings and glide 50 feet away. Feet trailing a few inches above the ground, an apparently effortless change of position. Occasionally one would lift his enormous wings over his head in a beginning courtship display. The sound of the flock chattering to each other was deafening.
I saw every sort of hawk and falcon, crowded together in trees, motionless, silent, unmoved by my presence, photographed often and by better than me.
The birds arrive in February and by the first week in March they are gone. Some rest for weeks, pick mates, court and dance and eat. Others come in and rest motionless for days or weeks and move on. Some arrive in large noisy flocks. Some travel with a mate or last year's offspring. Some are flying totally alone.
I have been incredibly moved by this gathering since I first witnessed it. And humbled.
Long ago our first ancestors came down from the trees and moved into the caves. Found fire, art, community, tools, building, teaching and learning. Civilizations have been born, died and their remains have disappeared. Wars have been fought, won and lost. We have been proud of our learning, our building, our skyscrapers, our space shuttles, our 'power' over the earth.
And throughout all this time, the geese fly north every spring.
Posted by Celestite at 8:56 PM