Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, August 18, 2013

It's That Time Again...

As I write, in mid-August, we had a break from the usual hot, humid weather with cool, dry air and bright sunshine. In the evenings, the wind died down and the skies were clear and cold.

Black-throated green warbler
During that time, some birds started heading south.

It doesn't seem like that long ago I was heading into my favorite birding areas to seek the migrants heading north to the breeding grounds. Now, suddenly, I am reading reports of black-throated green warblers and American redstarts passing by the hawk watches of Sandy Hook and Chimney Rock.

As a kid I would get restless in August because I knew I would soon have to go back to school in September. As an adult, if I haven't taken a vacation - and nowadays as a contractor it costs me a day's pay to take a day off, including holidays - I get restless in August, remembering my family's annual vacation.

In August, the birds get restless to fly south. As noted, many birds are already on the move when the right conditions permit. Sept. 1 is when many of the hawkwatches, including the one at Scott's Mountain abutting the Merrill Creek Reservoir in Harmony Township, NJ, set up shop to count all the southbound raptors.

Is my desire to "fly away" in August because, after 10 years of following them, I am in sync with the birds as much as to have some time off from a stressful job? I think so.

Scott's Mountain Hawk Watch, 2012
I read a study recently, "No-Vacation Nation Revisited" by the Center for Economy and Policy Research, that found the U.S. was dead last of the 19 "rich" nations that are members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in terms of providing guaranteed vacation days and holidays.

This makes perfect sense if you consider we are a nation where you start a business, work hard and then expect your employees to work just as hard and be happy to be employed to keep the operation going. The Horatio Alger myth of picking oneself up by the bootstraps says nothing about a vacation once successful. Cheap labor working every day but Sunday was once the rule until unions were created and grew. Now, with unions on the wane, we seem to be backsliding.

Remember, the U.S. government has passed no law ordering private companies to provide vacation. It's not the American Way.

At one job we only got holidays off because the U.S. Mail wasn't delivered anyway. That was back when newspapers and other businesses needed the mail to get the product out. Now, with the Internet, that isn't necessary. You also need fewer employees. So my current, Web-based employer cuts back on staff - to which it would have to pay benefits - and bulks up on "contractors," to which it does not. 
House wren, 2013


And if you don't want to do it, there are lots of people looking for work who can replace you.

Birds don't have to worry about that. They just need to worry about mating, breeding, raising young and then getting back to an area where they can continue eating until it is time to go north once again.

In August they sense the days are getting shorter. In my part of New Jersey it is now dark before 8pm EDT. At the time of the solstice two months ago, it got dark 40 minutes later. It is also now darker in the morning, with the cardinals waking me at first light around 6 rather than 5:30am.

So the birds in the north know it is getting time to leave. When it gets cold there are also fewer bugs to eat. The young are flying and able to feed themselves on the seeds of spent flowers and weeds and shrubs. When the wind comes from the north, a small bird - such as the house wren that spent some time at the nest box I provided - instinctively will take advantage of that push southward. Every little bit helps on a long, perilous journey.

So here I sit, earthbound in August. I wish I could drop everything and fly south to where it will be warm and sunny and filled with good food and so enjoy myself for a few months before I have to head back north and return to my responsibilities.