I sat in my tree stand the other day quietly waiting for the right deer to come along.
As I’ve said before, I’m not a patient person. I’m not a good sitter, so I have to find something to occupy my mind.
High overhead, I heard a flock of Canada geese honking its way south. Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve been fascinated by the goose migration and what seemed to be an unusual flight pattern. Why do they fly in a “V” formation, and how do they know where they are going?
The first part of this question is easy. Flying in a “V” formation is more aerodynamic. Sure the lead goose has to work harder than the rest, but when he tires, he moves partway back in the flock where he can fly easier and get a rest. The lead geese break up the air that creates drag. This same philosophy is used by race-car drivers when they stay right behind another car.
Scientists also feel that the “V” pattern makes it easier for them to see and communicate with each other.
As for the second part of the question — how do they know where they are going? Darned if I know, and I don’t think scientists know, either. Geese migrating from northern Canada will land on the same ponds and lakes every year on their way south. Heck, some drivers I know couldn’t find the same place two years in a row if their lives depended on it. Thank God for the GPS.
So after the third high-flying flock went by, I wondered what other strange things happen in nature.
Why do the swallows in California return to the Capistrano Mission on March 19th every year? Do they realize people are holding a big party or what? Maybe, but for centuries the swallows have returned to Capistrano on the exact same day. Why? How? I have no idea.
I know I have barn swallows that come back to my old dairy barn and raise their babies in the same mud nests year after year. I’ve never kept track to see if it happens on the same day. I also have no way of knowing, but I assume that many of these birds were born and raised right here and return to raise the next generation just as the birds before them. They fly north after wintering where it’s warm and somehow find that same old wooden structure outside West Oneonta.
When I’m on my hill in the summer, I watch the red-winged blackbirds fly out over the meadow and drop down into the deep grass to tend their nest and feed their youngsters. Gee, every blade of grass looks the same in a 30-acre meadow, but they always seem to find the right nest.
How can the monarch butterfly migrate to Mexico during the winter and land in the exact same tree?
How do salmon return to the same stream they were born in after spending three years out in the ocean or in one of the Great Lakes?
Gosh, so many questions with so few answers.
And lastly, have you ever taken time to watch a flock of birds or a big school of fish moving together in a tight group? When one turns, all the rest follow. Back-and-forth, up-and-down, it doesn’t matter. It’s like they are all connected. It’s so fluid and so amazing. It seems perfectly choreographed. They never seem to miss a beat, so to speak.
Certainly, nature is amazing. There are so many interesting things and unanswered questions. These are simple creatures compared to man and yet they seem to have it all figured out.
What ever happened to us?
Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.