Last year, the Felton Prairie was a magical field trip: the sun made the prairie glow, you could hear a symphony bird songs: marbled godwits, chestnut-collared longspurs, bobolink, western meadowlarks, etc. It was chilly but not bad. This year, it was cloudy, cold, and windy. I was totally unprepared and forgot my gloves. The birding was still great. Above is a large flock of Franklin's gulls rolling across the prairie in front of the giant windmills.
We had much better views at prairie chickens here. There were quite few, at point several were flying on either side of the bus. With the wind they were laying low, but a few testosterone laden males were still trying to out dance each other.
We found two western meadowlark nests. Mostly because they were close to the road and we flushed them before almost stepping on the nest. I took the above blurry photo because we had just flushed the female and the whole group wanted to see the nest. The chicks were just hatching and it was WAY too cold for the female to be off the nest--the ethical thing to do was to leave so she would go back and incubate. With the photo all 54 participants could take a look. It was touch lumbering the large group away, great birds kept coming into the area like an orchard oriole and a lark sparrow. But we did get away and the female went back. Whew.
Here are some cliff swallows hunkered down on a power line. The swallows were definitely feeling the cold. Barn swallows circled the bus like crazy as we kicked up insects. Northern rough-winged swallows circled our group as we walked in the grass--I suppose we were kicking up bugs much in the way cattle would. Tree swallows were swarming low over any body of water.
Even the pelicans seemed to be feeling the cold. They just hunkered together with an expression that said something along the lines of, "Craaaaaap, it's sooooo cold." Look at their bills, many of them are sporting the knob on the upper bill that they get during the breeding season.
Of course, a big part of the fun of birding at Felton Prairie is the herd of cattle that follows you around. Just like last year they were very curious about our group and came in for a closer look...sometimes scaring off prairie chickens and longspurs.
I did get a kick out of this brown-headed cowbird actually mixing in with the cows--actually doing what its name implies--go figure. Apparently, the cows had so much fun with us that they didn't want us to leave and tried to block the road. Our very intrepid bus driver proceeded carefully. I caught it on video: