Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Phenology, will we ever learn? When?


Yesterday, the numbers of tundra swans and Canada geese on the Sunrise River pools of Carlos Avery WMA had increased phenomenally. I estimated a couple of dozen swans and more geese than are likely to stick around for nesting season. The migration north has definitely started for this year. I wonder whether the snow storm forecast for Thursday night and Friday will push north those that have already arrived here or cause them to pause until more warmth and open waters return. They might even decide to turn around and head south again. Since most days from now on should have daytime highs above freezing, I'm going to guess that the birds around here will tough it out and then, some will stay and nest, while others will again head north again as melting and southerly winds and longer days continue.

early migrants: tundra swans, Canada geese
early migrants: tundra swans, Canada geese
Photo by J. Harrington

Sandhill cranes have also arrived in the vicinity, as noted in reports Tweeted by Belwin Outdoor Science <@Belwin625>  "First sandhill crane today. A new record! Previous record was March 10, average date March 19. Almost a month early!" and Rob Dreislein <@ODN_Editor> "Just heard sandhill crane flying over the SW. Daughter heard too & thought dad got a little too excited over a bird."

sandhill cranes
sandhill cranes
Photo by J. Harrington

Return of waterfowl and cranes gets me excited too. Although the observations have been totally informal, I've noticed increasing numbers of both swans and cranes since we move into our current house more than 20 years ago. Bald eagles are also more abundant. I suspect that, in part, we can thank regulations that control or prohibit herbicides, pesticides, plus air and water pollution. We seem to be doing a good job, but not good enough. Bees are in trouble. Oil spills from rail and pipeline and drilling blowouts aren't well cleaned up. Are you familiar with Pete Seeger's Where Have All the Flowers Gone? I don't want it to become literal, do you? Here's a couple of recent news articles, plus an older background piece, that make me wonder if we will indeed ever learn.
We've previously raised the concern that, if the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency hasn't had adequate staff to process outstanding discharge permits for mining operations such as Minntac, on what basis do they believe they'll have the staff and other resources necessary to handle "site specific" sulfate standards and permits? Do you suppose it might make any sense whatsoever to have US Steel pay for a process that uses Minntac as a pilot program for a prototype permit? The process could and should be overseen by all stakeholders, including, especially, Native Americans. Costs of all types, especially staff time, must be well documented to determine the feasibility of a site specific strategy. The outcome would not be a guaranteed permit but reliable information that Minntac could use to determine if the facility can cost-effectively meet necessary water quality standards. Might such a collaborative approach make more sense than perpetual battles in courtrooms and legislative chambers? When will we ever learn?

A Blessing


By James Wright


Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness   
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.   
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.   
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me   
And nuzzled my left hand.   
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.


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