Monday, April 16, 2018

Snow Birds


Stricker's Pond, Dane Co, WI during the storm 15April2018
Yesterday brought a mid-April snowstorm to much of Wisconsin. Here in southern Wisconsin we seem to have gotten less than six inches. Further north did not fare so well with several regions getting in excess of two feet of snow in blizzard conditions!

Even though our storm was mild in comparison to the north, many of the recently arrived birds were clearly struggling under the onslaught of snow and temperatures in the mid 20s.

Hermit Thrush in the Washington Hawthorn gifted to me by my birding pal, Aaron
I remained indoors most the day with much of my birding confined to the comforts of looking out my back window upon the sizable flock of birds taking advantage of the ample bird food at my house and the neighbors.

Hermit "Snow" Thrush eating mealworms by the garden shed
The mealworms we have been supplying for months were the delicacy du jour for our regular customers, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal and American Robin, as well as our recently arrived visitors comprised of several sparrow species and Hermit Thrush.

Fox "Snow" Sparrow, my yard, 15April2018
I tallied seven sparrow species for our backyard including a high total of sixteen Fox Sparrows! The other species included Swamp, Song, White-throated, Chipping and American Tree Sparrow, and Dark-eyed Junco.

The American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos have this cold snap aced as they are regular winter residents in Wisconsin.
American Tree Sparrow, my yard, 15April2018
However this Swamp Sparrow (photo below) appeared to be struggling in the unforgiving weather. It fed continuously throughout the day, hunkered down around and under the garden shed. The reappearance this morning of what seemed to be the same two "Swamps" along with two Hermit Thrushes were reassuring that most of my backyard birds survived the night. Though some Swamp Sparrows will over-winter in southern Wisconsin one of the two feeding in the yard yesterday was clearly not among the hardy souls the could endure a Wisconsin winter.

Swamp "Snow" Sparrow, my backyard, Madison, WI 15April2018
Most of the time this bird was puffed up and squinty-eyed
Of course with so many birds flocking to one area, a hungry Cooper's Hawk had to take advantage of the feast. It successfully made off with what appeared to be a Dark-eyed Junco (better that than a Hermit Thrush).

Hermit Thrush, my yard 15April2018
A brief drive to Ashton K pond yielded two more sparrow species including my FOY Savannah Sparrow.

Savannah "Snow" Sparrow, Ashton K, 15April2018
The stiff winds out of the north were something to behold in this open landscape. Getting out of my vehicle against the north wind required a surprising feat of strength. It's no wonder why multiple Killdeer were seen hunkering down in the lea of hillocks and rocks, that is until I disturbed them in my efforts to get a photo. FAIL.

"Snow" Killdeer, Ashton K, 15April2018 
The Vesper Sparrows were gritting in the middle of the road barely escaping death by car strike, not once but at least three times, while we admired watching a group of five feeding on what appeared to be a dangerous stretch of road.

Vesper "Snow" Sparrow. Ashton K, 15April2018
On our brisk walk around Stricker's Pond, we encountered a myriad of birds, some managing better than others in the snowfall.

Bonaparte's and Ring-billed Gulls doing just fine. 15April2018
Red-breasted Merganser, seemingly unphased by the storm, 15April2018
Red-necked Grebe, continuing at Stricker's Pond, 15April2018
The insectivores appeared the most weathered. If they had sentient thoughts, certainly "WTF" would be among them.

Eastern "Snow" Phoebe having a tough time finding insects, 15April2018
Unfortunately the Purple Martins returned just a few days ago. There is worry being voiced that their populations may collapse due to this veritable winter in what should be spring. The aerial insects these birds rely on are undoubtedly in short supply at this time. The suggestion has been put forth to train the Purple Martins to catch mealworms or scrambled eggs in flight. I'd like to see that. It's tough times right now for the recently arrived breeding insectivores and other migrants mistakenly entering our state as if it's spring.

Shorebirds were few and far between at the limited places I stopped to bird on Sunday. The few I found were weathering this recurrence of winter surprisingly well.

Greater "Snow" Yellowlegs seeming finding plenty to forage upon in the mud. 15April2018
Wilson's "Snow" Snipe, fitfully surviving. 15April2018
Like many of these birds, I too look forward to milder temperatures. Unlike them though, my survival does not depend on it. Theirs just might.

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