Snow tries to break the sky, but the clouds hold firm, hold back everything but a dusting of flurries. An armful of ducks dodge the snowflakes, sending a series of rhythmic quacks against thawing ground.
Spring sends her first hints through feathered messengers, through the choreographed movements of birds traveling home. This Sunday, the Friends of the Las Vegas Wildlife Refuge are sponsoring a free lecture and slideshow on the coming fury of the skies, “Migrating Birds of the Central Flyway.”
Madrid migration expert Lawry Sager will conduct Sunday’s talk, accompanying his information on bird watching techniques with a slideshow of colorful photographs he has taken of New Mexico’s migrating birds.
“Over the years I’ve done contract biology with the State Game and Fish department as well as federal and non-government agencies,” Sager says. “Most of my work has been on the Eastern plains. A lot of the birds I deal with are threatened or species in decline. I take photos during the spring and fall migrations.”
As spring approaches, attentive Las Vegas residents can expect to see more and more birds traveling north, first in small groups, then in larger and larger numbers as warmer weather approaches. Bigger birds such as ducks, geese, and cranes make their way north, first, before smaller species. Sager explains that the best time to watch for migrating birds is in the hours before dawn and dusk.
“Traditionally, early morning is the absolute best time to watch for migrating fowl. You get to enjoy the birds as the light increases. There is never much activity during the heat of the day,” Sager cautions. “At dusk, you are losing light, so you limit yourself as the day goes on, but you can still see quite a few migrating groups. The birds will be showing up fairly soon, now that warmer weather is coming.”
Ancient references to bird migration can be found in the works of Aristotle and Homer as well as in the Bible. The question of why birds migrate has mystified people from the earliest times. Fall migration allows birds to move to a more hospitable location so that they will continue to be able to find food. In the spring they return to the places where they breed and raise their young. It may be the slant of the sun’s rays, hormonal changes, magnetic influences, and the change of the weather that contribute to the birds’ urge to migrate to their other home. Scientists still don’t understand all of the issues surrounding migration.
“Migration has always fascinated me,” Sager says. “As a biologist, I’ve always been interested in birds, in their behavior. Ecology is an important issue to me, too, as well as many other people these days. We want to know what’s going on out there in the prairies, why some migration patterns are changing, and why some bird populations are in decline.”
Sager tells new bird watchers that they can gain all the practical knowledge they need by reading birding books and spending time in the field.
“It’s good to be out there looking. You can learn a lot from watching your own backyard on a day-to-day basis,” Sager advises. “All you need is a good pair of binoculars and some patience. It takes a little practice to be able to identify the birds in your area, but after some time, you can become an expert.”
Attendees of Sunday’s lecture will be able to look for migrating birds at the Wildlife Sanctuary’s observation platform near the Ranger Station after the event. The talk is limited to 40 people on a first-come, first-serve basis. Sager hopes to inspire Las Vegas residents to experience the wonder of migrating birds.
“Every day is a new adventure,” he laughs. “I guarantee you will see interesting behavior or some unexpected interaction.”
Migrating Birds of the Central Flyway, Sunday, March 9 1 p.m. National Wildlife Refuge. Seating limited to 40. Phone 425-9452 for more information.