I think this post needs to be book ended by butter butts (aka yellow-rumped warblers). In many ways spring is a cruel and at times non existent season in the northern US. Some might even goes far as to call spring a treacherous snake woman. After the magical Wednesday of seventy some odd degrees Thursday and Friday were rain, rain, rain, snow. Yep, snow. Now, luckily in the Twin Cities we just got a few flurries and a dusting that melted away by Saturday afternoon. However, up north they got 6 - 10 inches. I'm curious to see if there will be snow when I go up to the Detroit Lakes Festival in a few weeks.
After it rained all day Thursday, I headed 150 miles south to Wisconsin on Friday morning to give some bird programs at an elementary school. I knew cold weather was coming because my right knee was acting up--very stiff and painful to walk on--I dislocated that knee in a skateboarding incident at age 16 and like some weird voodoo it can sense dramatic temperature shifts. After I gave the programs, I used the chance to hang out with my buddy Joan and she took me to Trempealeau NWR. We had a few breaks between rain showers to do a little walking. When we stepped out of the parking lot we overcome by the aromatic and eye watering smell of:
a fish kill! Not since Stink Island have I had an nasal experience like that, it looked like mostly carp. I tried looking up the cause of the fish kill on "the google" and found that Trempleau NWR has a history of fish kills. The carp cause a disappearance of aquatic plants by grubbing up the roots and that leads to a deletion of dissolved oxygen in winter causing the fish kill. Bleh! However, some birds try to make the most of it:
This red-winged black bird was announcing his territory. I thought it was a pain to be out on a cloudy and drizzly day--this guy was singing on a pile of floaters--that's optimism! Imagine being a female red-winged blackbird, just returning from migration and you find a male you kind of like and he takes you back to see his territory and he takes you to this! Actually, she probably wouldn't care too much, not having a highly developed sense of smell. When the male wasn't displaying to rival males, he hopped from dead fish to dead fish feeding. At times it looked like slivers of fish meat and a couple of times it looked like he had found some sort of aquatic insect larvae. Leave it to birds to make the best of a rotten situation.
There were tons of yellow-rumped warblers. As I would drive, I could see clouds of them rolling through fields, the edge of woodlands, along water edges looking for anything edible. On my way down and on my way back to the Twin Cities I saw many recent insect eating arrivals: chimney swifts, purple martins, palm warblers, and on the listservs people were reporting orioles, thrashers, and rose-breasted grosbeaks. As much of a bummer as cold snap in spring is to me, I can't help but wonder how birds exhausted from migration can survive it.
I drove along and heard a familiar song--an eastern towhee. That's not a bird I hear very often in the cities and just took a few moments to enjoy his "drink your tea" song. I was bummed that I didn't have fantastic light. I'd love to try and get a shot where you can see that crazy red eye on the towhee--ah well, another bird for another day. His song was a welcome tune to the chilly day.
It's been interesting to watch the birds around my neighborhood. Saturday when it was snowing there were some yellow-rumps in my neighborhood searching for food around the tree buds and in crevices of apartment buildings--it's so strange to see them in their breeding plumage while feeding in snow flurries. The week is going to be chilly but should be warm by this time next weekend. I wish I could control the weather to give the arriving migrants a warmer welcome.