The seasons have appeared to change directly from fall to winter with last week’s arctic blast bringing snow and driving winds. This change caught me off guard a bit as I had done some preparing for winter but my body was telling me I needed to replace my light jacket with one that was better suited for January’s temperatures.

As I was thinking how cold the weather was, I began to imagine how cold it must be for our feathered friends who were still here or were several hundred miles north of us yet and had yet to migrate to warmer climes.

As the weather caught my attention as we were driving in slushy/icy roads, I had to imagine how difficult it must be to fly in the skies above with shifting winds and flurries of snow. Not only do our birds have to fly through nasty weather, they have to fly thousands of miles and not only once per year, but twice. I have a hard time traveling hundreds of miles at times, let alone traveling thousands of miles.

While traversing the western roadways of North Dakota over the past week, the avifauna hanging around included several rough-legged hawks, snow buntings, American robins, northern harriers, red-tailed hawks, prairie falcon, sharp-shinned hawk, golden eagles and bald eagles, a few ring-necked pheasants and a lone sharp-tailed grouse.

Several waterfowl flocks were huddled in remaining open water in streams, rivers and large permanent wetlands and lakes. Waterfowl species observed included mallards, lesser scaup, canvasbacks, northern pintail, northern shoveler, American coot, Canada geese and some surprises of a lone blue-winged teal and two wood ducks.

After a return to society in Bismarck-Mandan, evening skies were filled with large flocks of migrating Canada geese, greater white-fronted geese, snow geese and Ross’s geese. The skies were deafening at times with cackling geese streaming for hours overhead. Those sounds never get old.

When you’re outdoors during the next several weeks, keep your eyes and ears open to the skies above and to all of your surroundings. The sights and sounds may surprise you. But ... be prepared with warm gear.

Dan Ackerman is a wildlife biologist from Mandan.

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