Far Afield isn’t a column about politics, with the caveat that politics gets into everything. Think about it. Certainly not excluding man’s relationship with nature. But...

Election Day, Nov. 2, looms. And I mean as a potentially ominous, impending occurrence. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to live at an instant of time in America’s history when anyone can still become president but so many vying to represent us are unqualified to stand for national offices and too many of us are not fit to vote.

I’ve participated in and watched past elections with excitement and some with bewilderment, with relative indifference, with anticipation and with hope.

In 2010, with a profound sense of dread.

Switching now, as I often do, to thoughts of the wonders of the animals whose dependents have a chance of being around when we homo sapiens finish each other off. A little while ago, I wrote about a female rufous hummingbird that wintered in Florida and then migrated to Prince William Sound (Alaska) by June — 3,500-plus miles of straight-line distance.

She was presumably, however, able to make stops for food and rest. Many bird species that migrate travel in a series of flights, with stops as required. Others fly nonstop from breeding grounds to winter quarters. And a few make absolutely monumental, nonstop, epic journeys.

Take the bar-tailed godwit. This is a land bird, a large wading bird about a foot and a half long, summer resident of Alaska. Come winter, bar-tailed godwits migrate nonstop over open Pacific Ocean for nine days, covering 7,100 miles, ending up in New Zealand or Australia.

Nine days and nine nights, 40 mph, 7,100 miles nonstop, all over water. They would drown if forced down.Extremely lightweight satellite transmitters have made discoveries like this possible. Birds other than bar-tailed godwits take long-distance flights, some also nonstop. Some Arctic terns have been found to fly nonstop from Australia to Taiwan, 4,700 miles.

Bristle-thighed curlews may fly more than 6,000 miles from Alaska to the Marshall Islands. More investigation will likely discover more such determined venturers.

Not to forget the many land bird species, including hummingbirds, that fly across the Gulf of Mexico each spring. Leaps of faith. These travelers, however, at least don’t have to find tiny bits of land, islands surrounded by upward of thousand of square miles of ocean — or else.

It appears investigators working with long-distance bird migrators believe it doesn’t take long for them to evolve their essential takeoff and destinations.

Frankly, that assertion baffles me. Obviously, a bar-tailed godwit cannot survive an Alaskan winter. How, though, did the land bird “learn” to head for an island 7,000 watery miles away? Wonderful.

Of course, birds are not the only animals that migrate. Some insects migrate. Why, I bet you know some humans who do that, too.

Field Notes: Have we enjoyed a lengthy fall — or Indian summer? As I write this on Saturday, there are predictions by some friends of a big change of weather coming any hour now. Up to 10 inches (!) of snow, according to more than one peer. Well, perhaps not on the valley floor. Indian summer or fall, it was a nice October. Here comes November. I predict it will have weather.

November also will have big ungulate ruts fading out, tundra swans in their migration, deer mice getting into houses and Thanksgiving Day.

Right now, if you are lucky enough to have white-breasted nuthatches (Bru Wicks) or pine siskins, goldfinches, finches and two stellar jays (Bruce Hayse), or just magpies and chickadees, wait for the weather change. Birds should begin to come down to lower elevations.

Hang in there; November comes soon.

© Bert Raynes 2010


Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways.

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