Chapter 1. Rendezvous in North Dakota
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2005 All rights reserved.
(Shari) A few years back, Bert told me that there were not enough Aprils – his favorite month of the year - left in his life. I wonder just how many Springs do I have left in this ever aging body? Every year I savor the fuzziness of the new growth on the just-budding trees. Fortunately we seem to follow spring north and I get a double dose of it. Nothing is as fresh as newly budding leaves on a sunny day and I feast my eyes on the landscape bursting forth to greet another year. Spring started for us in Belize and Mexico at the beginning of March. We watched grass turn green, flowers bloom and birds mate. After watching spring arrive in Texas, we started moving north at the end of April. We moved so far north that as soon as we hit the Illinois/Wisconsin border it started to snow and we noticed the tress were bare of leaves. We stayed in southern Wisconsin for about two weeks, to again enjoy budding leaves, tulips, and singing birds. Time to move north again to endure trees without leaves and cold near-freezing temperatures. Another two weeks in northern Wisconsin was enough time to watch things green up for the fourth time. On May 14, we headed north again. This time Bill and Ginny, a couple living in northern Wisconsin who is on the caravan with us, joined us for the trip to Rugby, ND. Again I notice spring in bloom. The tops of the trees have a green fuzziness that turns into varying shades of green as the days progress. Birds seem happy and full of pep. One of our walks at a rest area delights us with hundreds of yellow marsh marigolds in bloom. Bert, Ginny and Bill bird along the way and I tag along to enjoy the fresh air and countryside. We stop in Superior, take a short bird drive to Wisconsin Point and, in the evening, dine out on wonderful barbeque ribs. Next stop is at a Forest Service campground without electricity but extremely peaceful. We find two spots big enough to accommodate our rigs. This weekend is Minnesota’s fishing season opener and boats are lined up like ducks at a carnival with optimistic people trying out their equipment for the first time in 2005. It is crazy. The next morning, while my three companions bird, I sleep in and enjoy my quiet. The days are perfect, sunny and warm. Again spring is sprouting all over with flowering trees, green grass and migrating birds. We arrive in Rugby on Wednesday where we will stay until Sunday before heading north in Manitoba to again repeat the cycle of spring. I just love it!
(Bert) With the migrants, we’re traveling northward to start another caravan adventure, this time in Manitoba. My e-mails from Texas describe mass warbler migration through Central Texas, particularly on May 8. We saw a trickle of migrants when we left Wisconsin a few days ago, but now here at our campground in Minnesota - near the headwaters of the Mississippi River - the migration is overwhelming. I often wondered about Blue Jay migration, having seen them resident in many locations but never sure I’ve watched any migrate. Yesterday I learned otherwise. Singly and in flocks of 2-20 they winged over our campsite. I guesstimated at the first few flocks and then started seriously counting, ending my 90 min. watch with a total of 365 jays. Interspersed were brightly colored male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. The 45 males – and surprisingly only 1 female – undoubtedly are the most I’ve seen in a day and certainly in today’s brief span. I speculate the migrants are following the Mississippi River, confronting overwhelming Lake Winnibigoshish, and skirting the shoreline to Point Tamarack where we camp. This morning we – I include Bill and Ginny who we met in Wisconsin and will be among our fellow caravaners this trip – watch warblers migrate overhead. In the 35 min from 8:45 to 9:20 I count 13 warbler species, identifying 67 but only seeing indistinct bodies of the hundreds that wing overhead without stopping in the treetops. The rarest are Golden-winged, Chestnut-sided, and Blackburnian; the most common are redstarts (17, almost all males) and Yellow-rumped (12). Each bird stays for only 5-30 sec and then moves on. So must we.
(Bert) I awaken frequently to hear rain splattering on R-TENT-III (our name for our motorhome), but doze off again in the darkness, not ready to rise before dawn. When I do, the rains have stopped, but the sky is still as muddy as the gravel lot where we are parked. A warbler sings cheerily near my window, perhaps happy to mark the cessation of the downpour. Not sure if its identity, I grab my binoculars and go outside to investigate what the rains have brought. Warblers are everywhere, many nearly unidentifiable in wet bedraggled feathers. They sit on low branches, preening and fluffing, trying to restore flight capabilities to their wings. Color and shape return and a knot of feathers transforms into a clearly marked Tennessee Warbler. The bushes and trees hold more survivors – Blackpoll, Canada, Magnolia – and I become aware that the storm knocked these migrants out of the sky into this small patch of woods surrounded by empty farmlands. I look for lights in the RV’s – others that will travel with us on the Manitoba caravan – and call the occupants out to view the fall-out. I’m still learning their names, but recognize Cynthia, Joyce, Clay, Sally and a few others as one by one they join me in identifying the nine warbler species and 24 others that make the list in the next 90 min. For a one-acre parking lot the tally is impressive. We debate the identity of a possible Veery, but settle on Swainson’s Thrush. The larger puzzle is a pastel yellowish bird that doesn’t fit our expectations and after many minutes of viewing we happily settle on labeling a Philadelphia Vireo. Breakfast and errands fill the rest of the morning and in the afternoon we begin our meetings for orientation, Birding 101 and our first travel meeting, followed by pizza at a local restaurant.
(Shari) The first day of a caravan always has lots of loose ends to tie. But I must say, it is 100% easier than a Mexico caravan, where I would never have time to make chocolate chip cookies for the group. After getting up at 7:00 AM (yes, you past journal readers, Shari does get up before noon) I make a list of things to take to the orientation/bird/travel meeting this afternoon. Between gathering the items, paying for the campground, making copies of forms, doing one last load of wash, answering last minute questions and making cookies it is already well past noon. During the past previous three nights we have had an impromptu social hour for those that were interested. The weather has been so so nice; we just had to spend it outside. We have a lively group from all parts of the U.S. and they have had little trouble getting to know each other. Marlene and Larry, our tailgunners, have done an excellent job in checking out rigs, gathering forms, and putting the distinctive yellow stickers on the vehicles, getting it all complete by last night. Soon it is time to gather for our group picture in front of the Geographic Center of North America Monument. The wind is ferocious and an earring is blown right out of Ginny’s ear. We car pool over to the restaurant for our orientation meeting, Birding 101 and travel meeting before we feast on salad, pizza and the cookies I made this morning.
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