As I look out the window, it definitely still looks like winter. For those of you that follow these articles, my opening line the beginning of March was “As I look out the window, we are experiencing our first (and hopefully only!) spring snowstorm."
Well, we experienced a winter storm warning four of the five weekends. With our long winter, birders definitely feel an itch to see some new spring arrivals. I checked the river daily the first half of March, hoping for new life to appear. However, the river was still frozen at the beginning of the month and took a long time to break up. A seam finally formed after the nine inches of snowfall that slowly melted with the warming sun. I have to say, watching the snow melt on the driveways in warming March sun while the temperatures are still in the teens is amazing.
Normally by mid March, there are thousands of Canada geese on the river. This year that wasn’t happening. The geese that have been around are the usual wintering birds.
I looked back at my notes last year. I observed 11 new species for the year the first weekend of March, including tundra swan, American coot and the state bird, a western meadowlark.
As I look at the list for this year, I slowly checked off the birds as they arrived up the Missouri corridor. Surprisingly, my first migrant waterfowl species was wood duck, a month earlier than last year. Day by day, I added a species or two at a time ... first a wide variety of ducks, then the not-so-glamorous seagulls. My best find of the month was a glaucous gull. The biggest of our regular gulls, this beast measures 27 inches from beak to tail and has a creamy white uniform plumage throughout. A bright pink bubblegum bill has a tip dipped in black ink. I saw a 1-year-old bird. As they age, the gray back and wings grow in.
In the past couple weeks, birders have seen a large influx of red-tailed hawks sitting in cottonwood trees and on utility poles. Meadowlarks are at the roadsides in flocks of 15 to 25, taking advantage of the plow cleared ground. Both mountain and eastern bluebirds, providing a bright splash of color, were observed perching on roadside fence-lines.
As this month draws to a close, I compared my annual list last year to this year and realized that it may still look like winter outside but the birds are forging north as much as they can. The two years had such drastically different weather patterns, with this year having 15 more inches of snowfall and 5 degrees colder on average. One hundred species are there and accounted for at the end of the month both years — much to my surprise.
These birds continue to amaze me every year. Despite bad weather and cold temps, the solar calendar tells them to press on moving north as they have for centuries.