By Laurie Root

Photo by Keith A. Anderson
Photo by Keith A. Anderson

What is a phenologist you ask? You probably are one! Phenology is the study of changes in plants animals as they respond to weather, climate and the seasons.

I love being in the field in October to watch the big flocks of birds migrating. My favorite are the Canada geese, but it is mesmerizing to watch the huge flocks of blackbirds working a field in the fall too. We have learned about the birds migrating since we were little but when you think about it, it is still amazing how far they go, and how they find their way. Much of how they do it is still a mystery and I am good with that.

Photo by Keith A. Anderson
Photo by Keith A. Anderson

When I am sitting alone watching geese fly, I think of “Lessons from the Geese” written in 1972 by Dr. Robert McNeish of Baltimore. Dr. McNeish, for many years a science teacher before he became involved in school administration, had been intrigued with observing geese for years and first wrote this piece for a sermon he delivered in his church. Words to ponder. Enjoy your fall!

Lessons from the Geese

goose-close-sm
Photo by Keith A. Anderson

Fact #1 – As each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird following. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds 71 percent greater flying range than if one bird flew alone. Lesson Learned – People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the strength of one another.

Fact #2 – Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front. Lesson Learned – If we have as much sense as geese, we will stay in formation with those who are ahead of where we want to go and be willing to accept their help as well as give ours to others.

Photo by Keith A. Anderson
Photo by Keith A. Anderson

Fact #3 – When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies at the point position. Lesson Learned – It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership.

Fact #4 – The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. Lesson Learned – We need to make sure our honking from behind is encouraging, and not something else.

Photo by Keith A. Anderson
Photo by Keith A. Anderson

Fact #5 – When a goose gets sick or wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it is able to fly again, or dies. Then they launch out on their own, with another formation, or they catch up with their flock. Lesson Learned – If we have as much sense as geese do, we too, will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

Laurie Root is a naturalist at Outdoor Campus – West in Rapid City.

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