I owe everyone an apology. In one of my recent posts, I implied that March and April were going to be a slog. The only thing worse than all the cold and gray would be that the flashier migrants were still weeks away. Trails are rutted and muddy, some impassable in many places. Tree limbs are bare and there’s hardly a touch of greenery in sight.
Well, I was wrong, at least about how dreary it would be (mind you that I am writing this on a day when the temperature may hit 70).
I’m tempted to write that “subtle signs of spring are everywhere.” I’d write this except these signs aren’t all that subtle. Substantial signs of spring are everywhere. And March and April are going to be great.
Just take the past few days:
A pair of Canada Geese staking out their nest site from last year, a clear departure from wintertime behavior.
A pair of Mallards drifting down the river scoping possible breeding locales.
Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds are back in force, with Brown-headed Cowbirds joining them recently.
American Robins are singing now, haven’t heard that since last year. Dark-eyed Juncos are trilling away, too.
House Sparrows are poking around all sorts of cavities and ledges with nidification on their minds. European Starlings are doing the same.
Song Sparrows might have the brightest, cheeriest song around, and it seems like they’re present in every meadow.
A glimpse of an American Goldfinch with actual gold feathers (or at least brilliant yellow) on a male.
And in the mammalian world:
A Gray Squirrel going in and out of an old woodpecker hole, likely tending to young.
An Eastern Chipmunk prancing along a log, maybe having just emerged from its winter burrow.
The daffodils and crocuses haven’t come up yet, and we’ve barely reached the vernal equinox. But the run-up to peak of migration isn’t going to be all that bad. There’s still time to enjoy the merits of March.
Let’s hear it for the birds…
I also want to give a shout-out to the young birds who made it through their first winter. They were essentially juveniles when fall ended and winter began. They made it through brutal cold, gale-force winds, blizzardlike conditions, and who knows how many encounters with predators. In mid-winter, I observed all the youngish-looking American Robins in our nearest forest preserve and thought about what it must be like to get by (in their case, lots of berries). But also the immature female Cooper’s Hawk that spent the winter hunting our neighborhood and is now guarding a nest in a nearby woodlot. When migrants re-appear in our parks and yards this spring, know that they have experienced incredible journeys since their last time here.
Speaking of grackles…
Jeff Reiter wrote about the Great-tailed Grackle that spent a good part of winter around a gas station and truck stop in South Suburban Monee. Anyone who’s been birding in the south, places like Austin, Texas, knows what a raucous mainstay these Icterids are down there. They’ve been seen a handful of times in Illinois lately, and one wonders if a range expansion is under way.