Planning calendar (Photo by Don Reimer)
Planning calendar (Photo by Don Reimer)
Last month I panicked after temporarily misplacing my weekly planning calendar. Yes, I know most folks use smartphones or other online devices to track their future appointments and social activities. Needless to say, I was relieved to recover the calendar the following day. Planning calendars are handy and nearly essential for many of us. Planning calendars have no capacity, however, for anticipating unscheduled events outside of our personal control. For example, the slot on my January 30th calendar did not say: “Take a fall on slushy ice and damage left shoulder structures.” But that was my fate on that particular day. A subsequent surgical repair date became an after-the-fact notation on my February calendar.

In his 1785 poem “To a Mouse,” Robert Burns stated, “The best laid schemes o’ men an’ mice/Gang aft a-gley” (often go awry). We know this assertion to be true. But despite occasional blips, Nature has fashioned a chronology of seasonal progressions, timed to serve the survival needs of its creatures. Indeed Nature’s predictable steady hand usually rules the day in these matters. That’s why we won’t find buzzing hummingbirds during the depths of a Maine winter — hummers relocated to the tropics last fall. It’s why nesting warblers and flycatchers arrive in Maine during the supreme peak of insect abundance.

In short, birds utilize instinctive planning calendars, driven by complex timing and navigational mechanisms that place them at strategic locations at optimal times of year. Some bird watchers that record spring arrival dates for various species can predict, within a day or so, when the first backyard Eastern Phoebe will appear. That same scenario holds true for a certain leg-banded Ring-billed Gull (F2Z) that nests near Montreal, Canada, but spends winters in Rockland ever since 2012. Last spring he remained in Rockland until April 13 (my final observation date, at least). On May 2, 2018, a Canadian biologist spotted F2Z among 45,000 gull pairs at the Montreal nesting island. By mid-July, this trans-national gull returns to the Rock City.

Let’s try to envision the March activity schedules of some familiar Maine species. Great Horned Owls are early nesters, sometimes starting in January. Be listening for their nighttime vocalizations as pairs converse within their territories. Although slightly smaller sized than the females, male owls have deeper voices. This powerful species usurps abandoned or unused nests of other species to lay its clutch of one to three eggs. Once egg-laying commences, the nest must be permanently incubated by one of the adults to keep the eggs viable.

Bald Eagles begin to nest in earnest in mid-March. Their calendar schedule would definitely include courtship flights over the nest site to strengthen pair bonds. While joining talons in mid-air, mated eagles engage in dramatic sky-swings and spiraling descents. You may witness eagles carrying nest sticks or other construction materials such as lengths of straw or grasses.

I mentioned “blips” in Nature, when things simply turn out differently from preferred outcomes. Of “hard luck” situations involving birds, Mourning Doves come to mind. These doves have transitioned into colder northern regions in the past decades as winter climate became marginally more hospitable. Despite their overall successes, we sometimes see birds with missing toes due to frosty conditions. Other dove blips? An individual appeared at my feeders with a torn crop membrane (or gaping hole in the exterior throat). Its attempts to consume sunflower seeds were futile as seeds spilled directly onto the ground. And then there are those occasional doves with no tail feathers — likely survivors of failed hawk attacks. Well, at least doves aren’t susceptible to falls on ice.