Friday, March 23, 2018

On the Edge of Winter and Spring

March is such a strange month. Or maybe it's just this March that's exceptionally strange! Over the past few weeks, I've seen the signs of spring accumulating -- the change is happening, really! -- but at the same time winter has refused to let go. The mixture of cold weather and persistent snow with shifting wildlife populations and growing greenery is tantalizing and a little frustrating. I'm ready for spring to really get going! But I can wait... it won't be much longer now.

Way back on February 20, I first noticed tiny crocuses pushing up through the barely-thawed ground in our yard -- my first green growing things of the year!

(At least, I think they're crocuses.... They weren't blooming yet when the snow returned, and they've been buried under a snow bank ever since.)

On February 24, I happened to be outside checking the electric meter, when I heard a strange noise overhead. I looked up and saw lines of Snow Geese flying north, right over our house. And not just, like, some Snow Geese. But flocks and flocks of Snow Geese, honestly as far as I could make out both to the north and south, a stream of interlocking lines across the sky. It took several minutes for the entire procession to go by -- calling the whole way -- and as best as I could figure out, there were at least 5,000 birds in the air. It was one of the most fantastic migrations I've yet seen, and all the more wonderful because our home was right in its path. If thousands of birds heading north toward their arctic breeding grounds isn't a sign of spring, I don't know what is! I was able to get at least a few pictures of the event; the Snow Geese were high up, but they were still recognizable with their white bodies and black-tipped wings:

Some of the patterns they made in the air were fairly complex:

Here's the widest view I could get with my camera; it's just a small portion of the whole, but even this is way more birds than I'm used to seeing in the sky at once:

And here's a somewhat shaky video, to give a sense of the geese's wonderful, constantly shifting patterns, and the sound of it all:

Well, that's something I never expected to see from my yard! Wow!

The beginning of March brought a big snow storm and huge wind gusts that ended up causing damage to our house. (Not a fun time!) Since then, we've been staying at a hotel while waiting for the necessary repairs to happen... and who knows what amazing things I'm missing while spending so much time away from the yard. (I'm ready to go back! Can I move back in yet??)

On March 14, we were at the house (cleaning up) during a thick snowfall, and a large flock of migrating blackbirds descended on the yard, the first blackbirds we've seen this year. Red-winged Blackbirds on the feeder, with a Northern Cardinal and Blue Jay looking on -- despite all the snow, this is definitely not a normal winter sight:

Most of the dozen or so Red-winged Blackbirds in this flock were sleek black males, but this male (a young bird?) had lovely brown-edged feathers on his back and wings:

And there was at least one female Red-winged Blackbird in the mix (my understanding is that it's more typical for the females to show up after the males). This female didn't look especially happy to be out in the driving snow:

She was a very lovely bird:

The most numerous birds in this big flock of black birds were Common Grackles. Again, this is a pretty strange sight for our feeder:

All those big dark birds made for a different kind of storm along with the snow:

Common Grackles are quite striking birds, maybe even more so with these snow-covered surroundings:

The blackbirds made strange dark ornaments on our hickory tree:

And in flight, they made a stark contrast with the gray/white hills:

Also, now I've had the surreal experience of shoveling snow while listening to Red-winged Blackbirds calling. Winter mixes with spring. But spring will prevail. I'm hoping for many more spring sights, and soon!