GRAND FORKS — Conventional wisdom says that Kevin Cramer leads Heidi Heitkamp in the U.S. Senate race in North Dakota. That might be right, based on the fundamentals, but that doesn't mean he's going to win. The U.S. Senate campaign in North Dakota is far from over. The fundamentals are against Heitkamp, including partisan loyalty, voter turnout and previous results. Another of the fundamentals out of the candidates' control might favor Heitkamp. That is timing.
For a moment last week, it looked as if Heidi Heitkamp might have caught a break — and from a surprising source, her U.S. Senate colleague Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana. Tester was the face of Senate opposition to Ronny Jackson, the president's choice to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. Trump vowed vengeance. Tester is one of 10 Democrats seeking re-election to the Senate in states that Trump carried. Heitkamp is another.
The ruffed grouse is an aspirational bird for me; that is, a bird I haven't seen lately but hope to see soon. The grouse is on my mind for several reasons, but mostly because it could occur on this week's Christmas Bird Count at Icelandic State Park.
The obituary said, "Richard was involved in conservation issues throughout his life," and it listed examples of his activities: biologist at the Northern Prairie Research Center, regional vice president of the National Audubon Society, fighter of wildfires, hunter of ducks and deer. All true, but the obituary in the Jamestown Sun left out his great accomplishment. This Richard had an enormous impact on North Dakota, and his activities dominated the news throughout the 1970s. Rich Madson stopped the Garrison Diversion project.
Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! I know this makes two woodpeckers in a row. And yeah, I remember the fuss some of you made about a series of owls as bird of the week. Well, I've got two reasons to make the pileated woodpecker bird of the week, and both of them are good ones. A gentleman stopped me in a downtown coffee shop last week and asked about the crow-sized woodpecker he had seen, so I knew there was interest in pileated woodpeckers. Then I saw one.
The downy woodpecker is among the steadiest of winter birds. She's at the suet feeder every morning. I know the bird is a female because there's no red mark on the back of her head. Male downy woodpeckers have this mark. It's called a "sexual badge." What I don't know is whether I am seeing the same female downy woodpecker each morning. Odds are I am, I think, but short of capturing the bird and marking it somehow, I really can't be sure. Why imagine it, then?
GRAND FORKS — A task force will study governance of higher education in North Dakota, the governor says. Applications for membership are due Thursday, Nov. 30. I'm not applying, but I do have one straightforward suggestion. Get rid of the residency requirement for members of the Board of Higher Education. Here's my case:
The evening grosbeak is often a spoiler and always a thrill — a spoiler because it is always keenly anticipated but seldom shows up, and a thrill whenever it does appear. The grosbeak is another of the northern species that sometimes move south in large numbers. Of these so-called "irruptives," the evening grosbeak is the least dependable. This relative rarity adds to the thrill of any evening grosbeak sighting. So does the bird itself. This bird is a stunner by any measure. The evening grosbeak stands out for its shape, its plumage and its bill.
Gov. Doug Burgum announced that he'll name a task force to study higher education. That's the most important thing that happened in North Dakota politics since this column last appeared a fortnight ago. The task force is a precedent breaker. No other governor has taken such a direct interest in higher education in more than 80 years. Bill Langer's interest was pretty much strictly personal. He fired some professors at the Ag College in Fargo, now NDSU. Actually Langer didn't do the deed himself. Members of his Board of Administration did what Langer told them to do.
Ten rusty blackbirds dropped into our backyard last week. This was not a surprise, exactly, but it wasn't anticipated. Seeing a rusty blackbird can never be anticipated. This is a species on the brink. The number of rusty blackbirds has diminished dramatically in the last several decades, accelerating a decline that may have begun as much as a century ago. No one knows why exactly this should be so. The circumstances do sweeten each rusty blackbird sighting.