Up the Creek: The return of Red-winged Blackbirds
By Ken Blomberg
Stop the press! Breaking news. You heard it here first, and I got it from several reliable sources.
On the tailwind of last week’s winter blast, male Red-winged Blackbirds returned to their territorial perches, long before Old Man Winter gave up the ghost. Snow, sleet and freezing rain did not deter these stalwart, steadfast migrants. Occupying the highest vegetative plants, be it popple, oak, willow, alder or cattail, they guard their breeding territory with a vengeance. Silent for a day or two, their rich, musical O-ka-LEEEE! resumed before the storm subsided on day three.
The migrant invasion of juncos, blackbirds, fox sparrows, starlings, finches – over a hundred by my count – gathered under our birdfeeders the day before the storm. We broadcast crack corn and sunflower seeds on the plowed driveway. It was quite a sight to behold. By Monday, those still migrating departed. They sensed warm winds of spring would carry them safely north. A lone swallow soared over our prairie field the day before and the day after the storm. Had he retreated and returned? Or tucked himself under a roof overhang, or cavity in a tree? Only he knows for sure.
The half dozen robins made themselves known after the storm hit. Puffed up and looking rather sorry, they hopped from low hanging branch to branch, from fence-clinging vine to vine, and back and forth to an exposed spot in the lawn where the sump pump drains. Berries and worms were in short supply, so we threw out blueberries, orange slices and dried mealworms.
By Monday, as others departed, they began to sing about spring once again.
The geese and cranes weathered the storm as they have in the past. One night during the storm, I heard several calling out to each other at midnight. Their trumpeting on Monday resumed during daylight hours and was fit for royalty. They sang songs of spring in harmony as others flew over catching strong southerly winds at high altitudes.
Deer came out of their alder and hemlock refuges and resumed scavenging in the open fields during daylight hours – alongside flocks of turkeys. Males resumed gobbling, fanning their tail feathers and strutting on snow covered edges of the fields and around their female harem. The gobbles and dancing are reserved for spring. And speaking of dancing, local prairie chickens are alive and well and booming, as recorded by human observers last weekend at the Wisconsin Prairie Chicken Festival in Wood and Portage counties. These birds, like no other, declare spring with a boom.
“I declare it’s over,” I told the boss Monday morning. “Go outside and listen. Old Man Winter is dead.”
“Nothing in life is certain,” she exclaimed. “Nature’s unpredictable.” This, from a woman who a few days ago retreated from the storm while snow blowing the driveway when she heard and saw lightning. “That’s it,” she lamented. “Let it melt by itself.”
Well, my declaration is reinforced by Mother Nature’s best. And to back them up, the national weather service folks now predict that through the end of the month there’s a 50 – 60 percent chance of above normal temperatures, meaning no snow – despite a 50 – 60 percent chance of above normal precipitation.
Let it rain. Warmer temperatures and rain will clear the landscape of remaining snow. And April showers will bring May flowers!