I Fought the Law & the Law Won

Adult Least Sandpiper on Main Pond, fall migration

A jogger friend of mine ran into me the other day on the Loop Trail. Well, not literally. She stopped to shoot the breeze. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” she commented. “I think summer is finally here.”

“Every day is beautiful at the Fill,” I replied. “But summer is over. Fall migration is in full swing, you know.”

My friend was taken aback. “Why do you say that?” she demanded. “I haven’t even broken out my bathing suit yet.”

I explained that shorebirds were coming back from the Far North, heading toward their winter homes in Central and South America. Since early July, we’ve seen numerous Least Sandpipers, a few Western Sandpipers, and good numbers of Long-billed Dowitchers. All over North America, a vast river of fall migrants is flowing through the sky every night.

“It’s only the adults so far,” I said, explaining that shorebird babies are precocial. That means they are born almost instantly ready to take care of themselves. The parents don’t have to feed them or even guard them. So a few days after the eggs hatch, the parents migrate south, leaving the babies behind to grow up on their own. When the babies are strong enough to fly, they start their own migration, usually in late August and September.

I stopped talking because my friend looked like she was sucking on a pickle. I realized she was not ready to say goodbye to summer. “Birds all follow their own schedules,” I hastened to add. “For a lot of birds, it’s still summer. Gadwall babies just hatched on Main Pond.” Frowny face.

“I saw two Tree Swallow parents feeding their young in the tree snag on Southwest Pond,” I offered. No dice.

“The temperature is supposed to hit 80 today,” I said feebly. She harrumphed and left me.

As far as we humans are concerned, summer began on June 21 this year and will end on September 23. That is what our calendar dictates. But every now and then, nature reminds us that we don’t make the rules. Nature does.