Far Afield

A bird’s nest found with parts of a plastic bag.

Deadline for this column is Sunday. Publication is the subsequent Wednesday, so this column will publish before the general election.

Presumably the results of the election for president of the United States will be known before the next column. I hope you’re satisfied with the results. More importantly, I hope I am.

I’ve made this quip many times before about elections but this year I have to add that I hope our republic isn’t being challenged.

As I write these words, 10 days remain before the Nov. 8 election. Plenty of time, it appears, for almost anything to happen that could influence the voting: October surprises, further scandals, an indelible faux pas, a stumble. Matters could even go smoothly from here on in, but that sounds like a sucker bet.

And so, with this, one of the last days of October, pleasant, mild at 50 degrees, calm and ostensibly serene, I offer some words of a nonpolitical nature that I hope bring a little bit of change from electioneering bombast. These are from my collection of essays “Valley So Sweet.”

Passing through

White-crowned sparrows were “passing through” Jackson Hole as September came to an end, scouring shrubs and underbrush around lakeshores and along stream edges. They moved south in loose, small flocks, keeping in touch with one another with soft notes. Little inconspicuous birds, each on a monumental journey.

A hundred other bird species “pass through” Jackson Hole twice a year on migration. For some reason, white-crowned sparrows pass through all over the country. Meg has chuckled over this specialization of the white-crowned sparrow, wondering mildly where all the young white-crowns come from if the birds are always on the wing. Good point. This morning I notice the white-crowns dominate the bird scene. Robins, blackbirds, flycatchers, tanagers and shorebirds have all scrammed.

What a pity. A bird watcher must content himself with the gold and brown and russets in tree and shrub, with varying brilliant yellows and a few reds in aspens, the wine of geranium leaves, the astonishing still-bright-green of a willow or chokecherry, a last-of-the-season harebell or aster, with a golden expanse of sagebrush and the deep green of evergreen forests. With the mountains, the rivers, the sky and clouds. This bird watcher feels no sense of deprivation. None whatsoever.

Field notes: Numerous observers mentioned a sudden drop-off in numbers of birds coming to their feeders. It happens every year in the fall when the birds are migrating or simply restless in anticipation of winter. Do not despair, the birds will not give up on us.

The snowstorm in the first days of October left a tree lying across Mark Huffman’s front porch, which led to an interesting find:

“I was cutting up the remains — it’s a big bushy thing some call a Wall of China, with several parallel trunks and many smaller upright branches — and came across a robin’s nest that had been set far down inside, safe and hard to find. I was looking at the nest and noticed (see picture) that it actually seemed to be a nest on top of a nest, and between them was what looked like a plastic sandwich bag.

“I’ve seen nests with string in them, and I know some people set out straw and ribbon and twigs for birds to build with. I’ve even seen a robin’s nest with a long strand of orange nylon twine wound through it. But not a bag.

“It’s hard to believe — without anthropomorphizing — that the birds thought the plastic would be a useful innovation (insulation? waterproofing?). I wonder what motivated them to pick the thing up and then use it. Anyone else seen this?”

Bert Raynes © 2016

Bert Raynes writes weekly on whatever suits his fancy with a dash of news on nature and its many ways. His opinions are his own. Contact him via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com.

Jennifer Dorsey is chief copy editor for the News&Guide and one of the editors for local articles printed in the Jackson Hole Daily.

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