Outdoors Column: Cannot Trust Mother Nature

One day last week, my wife and I were sitting on the porch relaxing after a hard day. The birds were singing, enjoying the warm afternoon as much as we were. I had heard a whip-poor-will call several times but did not think much of it. My wife turned and said, “That is the first time I remember hearing a whip-or-will during the day.” Only then did it dawn on me that to hear one during the day is indeed strange. We hear their unique chanting call frequently, but only after dark in the evening or before daylight in the mornings. I walked around the corner of the house to try to see it. A whip-poor-will is extremely difficult to see as they are camouflaged to look exactly like the tree branches they sit on.


The sound seemed to be coming from a cedar tree at the edge of the yard. Suddenly the call changed to that of a red winged black bird. It was coming from the same location and I could still not see anything. Before long, a gray and white bird flew out of the tree and landed on the fence. He made a whip-poor-will call and flew off. We had been fooled by a mockingbird.


Mockingbirds are not commonly seen as far north as southern Iowa. I am not aware that I have ever seen one. It was entertaining to hear the bird imitate other birds so well. I have read they can also imitate cars, lawnmowers, and dogs. Though unique, I might find it annoying to have a bird barking at me.


Most of our other resident birds seem to have tolerated the frequent deluges of rain we have had to endure recently. The bluebirds and wrens have weathered the storms in their birdhouses attached solidly to posts or trees. A hummingbird has built a nest in a decorative shrub at the front of the house. The only ones that have not faired so well is the geese.


Two pair of Canada geese live on our lake. One pair nests on the island and has for years. The other pair have their nest on the shore toward the far end of the lake. Most years, their chosen spots work well. That was not the case this year. The lake is part of a flood control project. During heavy rains, the lake backs up water to prevent flooding of farmland downstream. This year, after the ground was already saturated from frequent rains, we got several more inches. When the conditions are like this, the lake level will rise a foot for every inch of rain. By the time the rains stopped, the water level had risen eight to ten feet above normal. Needless to say, the goose nests were flooded out. It took three days for the water level to return to normal. The nesting materials were scattered and the eggs were cold for too long. It is not that the world has any shortage of Canada geese, but I still hate to see them lose their nests. I am not sure if they will attempt to set again or if there is too little time for them to grow to maturity before they have to fly south for the winter.


Things are not always as they seem, whether it is a safe place to build on an island or a bird making the call of something else. We cannot always trust mother nature.