Surely you all have a story or two about the freak October blizzard of 2019. Only one other time in recorded history did we have more snow out of a storm in October, some 30 years ago. While Bismarck was blanketed 17 inches, everything north and east was shut down, and Harvey was buried with 30 inches of snow.
We all knew this storm was coming. My biggest fear was the heavy wet snow would encase those lovely fall-colored trees with so much weight the limbs would snap and cause power outages here and there. Thankfully that scenario didn’t materialize much. However, the difficulties of the wet fall weather mount against the family farmers. I even read comments tonight of snow machines traveling through unharvested fields, adding more insult to injury.
As the storm intensified over Bismarck in the wee hours of Thursday morning, the rains turned to snow and roads glazed over with a coating of ice. The winds howled from the northwest and snows dropped visibilities to less than a mile.
In the avian world, many species working their way south in early October are not accustomed to the wild winter weather they experienced. A few species of woodland warblers such as yellow-rumped and orange-crowned warbler are scrounging for freeze-dried insects. Your familiar American robins switch from their summer diet of worms and insects to the fruits of grape vines and berry trees.
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Every time I looked out the window Thursday, birds were spotted passing overhead. On one hand, they had a much-appreciated advantage of a 40 mph tailwind. But also, hanging around in an unexpected winter storm could cost them their life.
Twenty-three species were noted passing by during the course of the day, with the vast majority being waterfowl such as Canada geese and sandhill cranes. A few flocks of ducks went by so fast I didn’t know what species they were. Merlin, northern harrier and bald eagles also were noted among the 70-some red-tailed hawks in my few hours of watching.
On Friday, as the snow piled up, a few sparrows were noted in a weedy field behind my place. With the drifting snow, a few dark-eyed juncos and a song sparrow found weed seeds with ease as they were able to pluck directly from the seed heads rather than scratching through leaf litter on the ground.
As I watched the storm over the course of three days, it was interesting to note the birds adapting to the weather at hand and taking advantage of what they had presenting to them. As they always say, nature is survival of the fittest; these avian friends definitely showed many ways to survive in such conditions.