The evening grosbeak is often a spoiler and always a thrill — a spoiler because it is always keenly anticipated but seldom shows up, and a thrill whenever it does appear. The grosbeak is another of the northern species that sometimes move south in large numbers. Of these so-called "irruptives," the evening grosbeak is the least dependable. This relative rarity adds to the thrill of any evening grosbeak sighting. So does the bird itself. This bird is a stunner by any measure. The evening grosbeak stands out for its shape, its plumage and its bill.
Gov. Doug Burgum announced that he'll name a task force to study higher education. That's the most important thing that happened in North Dakota politics since this column last appeared a fortnight ago. The task force is a precedent breaker. No other governor has taken such a direct interest in higher education in more than 80 years. Bill Langer's interest was pretty much strictly personal. He fired some professors at the Ag College in Fargo, now NDSU. Actually Langer didn't do the deed himself. Members of his Board of Administration did what Langer told them to do.
Winter weather brings winter birds, and that is something to welcome and to wonder at. Why do the birds come? How do they find their way? Bird lovers have puzzled about these questions for generations, and still there is no single, clear and definitive answer.
Ten rusty blackbirds dropped into our backyard last week. This was not a surprise, exactly, but it wasn't anticipated. Seeing a rusty blackbird can never be anticipated. This is a species on the brink. The number of rusty blackbirds has diminished dramatically in the last several decades, accelerating a decline that may have begun as much as a century ago. No one knows why exactly this should be so. The circumstances do sweeten each rusty blackbird sighting.
Thursday is Statehood Day in North Dakota. President Benjamin Harrison signed the enabling act 128 years ago on Nov. 2. What resolutions should North Dakotans make for the state's 129th year? One suggestion is that we should like each other a little more. Another is that we should give ourselves permission to enjoy our wealth. We've allowed political leaders to convince us that North Dakota is broke, but that is a political outlook, not an economic one. North Dakota has a great deal of money, much of it frozen in trust funds that are difficult to tap. That financial
The American tree sparrow is misnamed and misplaced. It is an American bird, sure enough, and it is a sparrow. But the American tree sparrow has little to do with trees or forests. Instead, it is a denizen of scrub growth and especially of weedy patches. The tree sparrow eats a lot of weed seeds. One other thing is certain about this sparrow. In our area, it is closely associated with winter; not with the season itself, but with its arrival and departure.
UND's president is a man of considerable ability. He sees the big picture. He sets and articulates goals. He's consistent in his public presentations. He made a good impression with important legislators. Still, the UND campus is uneasy about the president, who's been on the job for 16 months now. At a news conference last week announcing the retirement of the athletic director, the reasons for this uneasiness were on display.
A varied thrush spent time in Memorial Park Cemetery last week. This appearance wasn't unexpected, but it was unpredictable. Memorial Park has been drawing unusual species to Grand Forks for many decades, many of them in late fall. These weeks before winter's onset are the most chaotic of the year in the bird world. The period often brings wanderers and strays, and that is the case this year.
Leaders of the Board of Higher Education were remarkably defensive last week, even for a group that has been so often under siege. The evidence appeared in a single issue of the Grand Forks Herald, in a front-page story and in a letter to the editor, both printed on Oct. 12. The letter wasn't a surprise. Board chair Don Morton and his predecessor, past chair Kathy Neset, reacted to a critical editorial that the Herald published Oct. 6, the previous Friday. "We look forward to Dr. Hagerott's continued service as our chancellor," Morton and Neset wrote.
For the past couple of weeks, it's been hard to miss the flocks of gulls, coursing as they do over parking lots and farm fields. What are these gulls? It's hard to tell. The gulls are a complicated and confusing bunch. About 50 species occur worldwide, perhaps as many as 55 depending on how you count. About half of these show up in North America.