April 14, 2008
Today was crystal clear, and the air while warmed a bit by the sun, still had a cool nip to it. It's my favorite kind of early Spring climate. Migrating birds are coming through in waves. Hermit Thrushes appeared a couple of days ago, some maybe coming from as far south as Mexico and Guatemala. I see them foraging the underbrush lining the canal in the arboretum, gathering more fuel before they travel on to the northern hardwood forests. Yesterday, while standing in my back yard, I stared up into the upper canopy of the hackberry tree to see a group of tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and a pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers flitting about. Then my eyes drop down the trunk to see a Brown Creeper winding its way up. I jogged to the video store and paused at a scrappy corner patch of someone's backyard and saw Golden-crowned Kinglets picking through leaf litter, and then over to the canal to see a Belted Kingfisher. The neighborhood is alive with the calls of woodpeckers: Northern Flicker, Hairy, Downy, and Red-bellied. I loved the silence of Winter, but now it's time again to train ears and eyes to all the twittering life.
Last Wednesday at the museum, I worked on some Broad-winged Hawks from the Minnesota Dept. of Natural Resources. The two I skinned were juveniles. It's been a while since I had worked on anything of that size, and was sorely out of practice. The feathers and skin on one of the legs of a Broad-winged I had worked on was twisted a bit out of place. Tom Gnoske spied it immediately walking through the prep lab. I felt the air suck out of the room a bit as I inwardly cringed. I and hawk were gently corrected. Tom is the Assistant Collections Manager in the Bird Division, and by far, the best skinner. His study skins are flawless. Flaaawless. He not only works on birds. Sometimes I have wandered into the lab to find an enormous wolf collected from the MDNR on the prep table, and told it's for Tom (ancient proverb: do not mess with the man that messes with wolves). He wiggled the hawk leg back into place, while giving me pointed tips and refreshers. I looked on as he deftly tugged at feathers and tissue until the bird relaxed back into position without a single feather out of place; not a one.