If moviemaker Alfred Hitchcock had been a farmer, he would have had a farm just west of Brigham City.
With a famous bird refuge so close at hand, the local fields fill up with feathers this time of year - more birds than you'll find in, well, "The Birds.""I counted 18 vultures yesterday," says Scott Holmgren, who helps out on his father-in-law's farm in Bear River City. "They were just circling and riding the air. They sleep in each morning, get up late, then float on the currents."
Several hundred gulls follow Wayne Weidman around on his tractor as he plants and irrigates his winter wheat.
"They look for worms and just play in the water," he says.
And in several well-watered fields, the glossy ibises are as thick as thieves. When they take off as a flock, it's as if the topsoil itself is flying away.
"It happens every year here; you see thousands of birds in the cut grain and cut corn fields in West Corinne, Elwood, even out inHarper Ward," says Denton Beecher, the county surveyor who works on county planning. "I saw four red-headed vultures myself the other day."
Out on West Forest Street in Brigham City (the road to the bird refuge), the birds almost outnumber the bugs. The sight is enough to cheer the heart of the orneriest ornithologist.
Driving west to the refuge, one quickly can see that a careful alliance has been struck among farmers, bird hunters and birdwatchers. Along the road you'll see a full array of "No Trespassing" signs, as well as a few gates that have been braced open to "welcome" amateur bird lovers.
At one point, the Feather and Fin Sports Club sits right across the road from the posted "No Hunting" sign of the National Wildlife Refuge. And both places are within easy earshot - and buckshot - of the surrounding farms.
Richard Jensen and his family live along a road just west of I-15. Once a bird hunter, today Jensen is an avid observer. He built a tower on his property - much like poet Robinson Jeffers' famous "Hawk Tower" in Carmel, Calif. - where he and other family members can get a panoramic view of the valley and the migratory patterns.
"When the combines go through the fields to harvest the grain, they always spill quite a bit," he says. "So we see hundreds of geese coming into the fields to eat. Sometimes we have to shut the north window of our house so the geese don't disturb us. After the first snow, you'll see hunters dressed in white, waiting for them to come in."
The Jensen outlook also overlooks an array of other birds: coots, egrets, snipes (the glossy ibis), ducks and even sandhill cranes. Granddaughter Tiffany Moline enjoys the sandhills most of all.
"If you sit on the porch when the sun goes down, you can hear the cranes laughing and talking to each other," she says. "It sounds like a room full of women."
For now, there is no crane hunt in Box Elder County - as there is in Rich County - but since the sandhills eat more and more grain, the issue surfaces from time to time. Hunters and farmers wouldn't mind seeing a Box Elder crane hunt, though the crane is such a majestic bird, many watchers balk at the idea.
The issue, in short, is just one example of people with very distinctive personal interests trying to coexist.
"It is a delicate balance," says Jake Faibisch, information and education manager for the northern region of the Department of Wildlife Resources. "There are differences of opinion, but for now, everyone has agreed to disagree. The important thing is, there is plenty of room for all the groups up here. The concerns are not as distinctive as people may think. There's a large gray area. Hunters and watchable wildlife groups have a lot of the same goals - they want a healthy population of birds. The key will be the habitat. If we can maintain a good ratio between the wetlands and the uplands for these birds to utilize, we'll be fine."
For now, that "delicate balance" has not only kept the feuds in check but has produced some wonderful recreation for hunters and watchers alike.
And for farmers, being awakened by a field full of geese or cranes is just another of the small pleasures of rural living.