Colorado Waterfowl Intuition

By Dennis Smith

I don’t know how or why, but Colorado waterfowl mysteriously seem to know more about weather and the changing of the seasons than all the cartographers, meteorologists and earth scientists ever born.

The TV weatherheads presume to know what the weather will be like in the days and weeks ahead and make a big show of announcing it, but they always cloak their predictions in weasel clauses and disclaimers like: “Partly cloudy with periods of partial sunshine; spring may come late this year.” Or “March may come in like a lamb and go out like a lion…or not.”

Colorado waterfowl, on the other hand, do not hedge their bets. They sniff the air and, using whatever miraculous powers the Creator endowed them with, determine that spring has arrived and confidently bet their lives on it. No qualifiers, no ifs-ands-or-buts, no maybes.

Satisfied that spring is here no matter what the weatherman says, they gather into great migrating flocks and take wing for their nesting grounds in the far north. Neither the calendar nor the “official” equinox have much to do with their selected day of departure. They simply know.

Spurred on by late-day sun and surprisingly warm air, my wife and I set out for a short walk a little past 4 one afternoon last March. We noticed a few spikes of tulip leaves poking through the leaf mulch in the flower bed and some new, rosy-red buds on the Norwegian maples in front of the house. A flock of robins in the empty lot nearby were chirping excitedly, though it wasn’t clear to us what all the fuss was about.

It was right about then we spied the first skeins of geese. They were flying exceptionally high, strung out in long, wavy, V-shaped lines that seemed to stretch for miles. It was pretty clear they were migrators hell-bent on making time and distance.

Behind them followed others, and more strings appeared to the south and east. Flock after honking flock speckled the skies, continuing on through dusk and well into dark.

It was only March 7, a full 13 days ahead of the officially scheduled vernal equinox, but there was no doubt spring had sprung. After all, the geese were heading north, and they know about such things. You can trust them.

Dennis Smith is a freelance outdoors writer and photographer whose work appears nationally. He lives in Loveland.

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