Spring migration as spectacle

  • Article by: BILL MARCHEL , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 20, 2014 - 6:05 PM

A guide to the enormous flocks now arriving in Minnesota, heralding the arrival of spring.

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For some people, the arrival of spring means little more than modifying their clothing — a metamorphosis of sorts — to suit the changing weather conditions. Others, with rake or shovel in hand, note the revolving seasons as they remove the various items that Mother Nature has deposited on their lawns and walkways. Still others will walk heads cocked with eyes and ears to the sky, gauging the spring by the arrival of migrating birds.

It’s happening now.

One of the first arrivals, horned larks, showed up in Minnesota in January. Possibly you have observed them as they scrounged for weed seeds along open roadways and windswept fields.

To many people, the first robin sighting of the year means spring. Others mark the end of winter with the arrival of eastern bluebirds, another early migrant.

If you travel the country roads, a kestrel perched on a power line might signal spring to you. Or perhaps your winter is washed away by a huge flock of red-winged blackbirds flying, undulating, strung out across the prairie.

My ice-fishing friends figure it’s spring when they hear the first flock of migrating tundra swans. While sitting atop gray ice, the anglers can listen to northbound swans as they hoot and holler from high above, announcing spring’s arrival to the world.

Legendary conservationist Aldo Leopold once wrote, “One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.”

To me spring has arrived when the prairie marshes are teeming with not just one skein of geese, but many. During peak migration, the birds gather in huge flocks on wetlands. Twice each day, once in the morning and once in the evening, they fly to nearby fields to feed on leftover grain.

And it’s not just the geese that thrill me this time of year. Ducks, the males dressed in their colorful breeding attire, are constantly harassing the hens, vying for their favors. Sometimes 20 or more species of ducks can be spotted on a single marsh.

Leopold also wrote once of a woman who “had never heard or seen the geese that twice a year proclaim the revolving seasons to her well-insulated roof.” Don’t make the same mistake. This spring, take time to celebrate the new arrivals flying overhead.


Bill Marchel, an outdoors writer and photographer, lives near Brainerd.



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