flyways and byways

Last spring my son, Gabriel and I took a road trip.  The route was Texas to Minnesota in three days. It’s a beautiful way to see the country and was a little challenging because weather in March varies as you cross the country, from heat to heavy rains to snow. But, a road trip!  Gabriel was a high-school senior and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend time together before he graduated.  With a teenager, I’ve found that the best conversations are had in the car.  

 What initiated the trip was antique related. At the time I was still wheeling and dealing as a manager of an antique store and 500-piece, Venini chandelier had to be picked up.   So, Gabe and I flew to Houston and planned a trip that included seeing a few sights, a couple of antique stores and many miles of highway..   The first morning we arrived the home of this great chandelier, which ‘just wasn’t a good fit’ for the $10M new construction. We quickly packed up the light, loaded it into our rental mini-van and started our trek after stopping at the Rothko chapel filled with his gigantic dark, color field paintings, something that everyone should experience.  

 We angled our way along the eastern boarder of Texas, the top of Arkansas, and then to Memphis to stop at another architectural salvage store, for some BBQ and to see the town.  Heavy rain began that evening and we stopped before heading back north through Missouri along Highway 67.  It’s a scenic route that crosses through Mark Twain National Forest with roads that undulate like a roller coaster.  I found myself nervously giggling, as our car would catch air on the hills and the Italian crystal that filled our back seat lightly clinked together. As we drove, we noticed above the expansive fields hundreds of birds flying in the sky.  My guess at the time was that guessing they were hawks. It became a distracting as we drove and probably a little dangerous as we couldn’t keep our eyes off the masses of birds going in the same direction as us. The route, I now know is part of the Mississippi flyway for bird migration.

 Last night, I was reminded of this trip at Minnesota River Valley’s Audubon monthly meeting I attended.   Meetings are held on the last Thursday of each month, and the auditorium is packed with people for the speaker, Mr. Jim Egge.  He is a past president of the Audubon Society of Minneapolis who is talking about bird migration.   This was my first attendance for my migration project and I am excited to learn more about migration patterns in Minnesota.  Here are notes of interest that I took:

 Four billion birds cross the northern US in migration.  4.7 billion cross the southern boarder but only 2.6 billion return. 

The bird migration patterns are 4-5,000 years old.  

Minnesota is a stop for migration, a ‘trap’ or drop-off place where you can find a higher concentration of birds- often because of food supply, climate or stresses on birds such as weather.  This is what makes Minnesota a popular birding state. 

 There are different dialects in bird calls called Regiolects, which can help track migration.

Most hunters know the different flyways:

Pacific Flyway- lightest in travel

Rocky Mountain Flyway

Mississippi Flyway- that’s us!

Eastern Atlantic - Florida flyway.

As a complete beginner, I learned some important facts and had some great conversations with the group.Mr Egge went on to describe some interesting studies. My favorite and the one that provided me with the most inspiration so far was the Emlen funnel.  The study which will require more research and reading on my part involves placing a bird in a cone, covered and an inkpad on the bottom to capture prints of bird feet to track direction to further explain migratory behavior. I wrote down “Do work about this!” I do think of the poor birds hitting the clear tops of the cones- but the imagery of the feet makes me think about what colors and dyes to use as I formulate a plan.  

Emily Donovan