.......and Reflections

Friday, January 25, 2013

Late January Signs of Spring

It's cold. It's snowing. It was -2 degrees a couple of mornings ago and has warmed to a toasty 14 degrees today. It is, unquestionably, January in the Great Lakes. Birding in the winter is relatively slow but it is also a good time for serendipitous discoveries.

So far this year I have seen 10 species of mammals. The best sighting was a pair of Coyotes on Mosquito Lake ice. I watched the two Coyotes acting more like puppies....out of character for their reputation. My guess is that frolicking, rolling around on the ice and laying on their backs with legs kicking around in the air may preclude a spring family. Just a guess.

I watched a an American Beaver lodge transform over a few days during the warm "January thaw". One day I could see that it was darker than it had been. After inspecting with binoculars it clearly had received a new coat of mud and muck. The Beaver was resting at the base of the lodge. The same was true the next day. On the third day the Beaver was absent but the Lodge had a new set of cut and crafted sticks and timbers. I think it was a renovation for a new spring nursery and the ultimate permanent thaw.

Yesterday I traveled to the Lake Erie shoreline along downtown Cleveland. Here is an infamous location where Gulls congregate to feed on Gizzardshad attracted to warm waters discharged by a power plant. It was brutally cold and a sobering reminder of what January can dish-out along the north coast of Ohio.

The visit was successful because there were lots of gulls. While we looked across masses of birds resting on near-shore ice it was all interrupted by other birds looking for more than Gizzardshad. Two Bald Eagles cruised over the masses along the harbor break wall and all the resting masses rose to the sky in two huge clouds. A Peregrine Falcon came to near shore and raised the birds near shore. The result was a conservative estimate of 100,000 gulls swarming in the air in front of the birders toughing out the extreme cold. It was an awesome sight.

The benefit of gull concentrations is that it usually harbors rarer gulls in the masses of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls. And with patience and practice we were able to single out Glaucous, Iceland, Thayer's, and Lesser Black backed Gulls among the chaos.

While the Lake Erie Bald Eagles were busy working out a meal I found 2 more Bald Eagles today engaged in another compelling activity. While cruising Mosquito Creek Wildlife area this morning I saw 2 Bald Eagles on the ground in a large open grassland bordered by forest. As I watched them hopping around on the ground the male rose up and with wings flailing for balance mated with the female. This is the only time I have been absolutely sure who was the boy and who was the girl as they are identical in plumage.

Breeding Bald Eagles, lodge maintenance and frolicking Coyotes are true sign that spring is not too far down the trail. But there are other hints as well. Have you noticed that the American Goldfinches are already looking much more yellow? Have you seen that European Starlings are losing body speckles and looking a bit glossy? Look at their beaks and you will see that the bills are growing into yellow. It is the bright yellow bill that appeals to the girls when winter turns to spring.

It's cold and still snowing. Winter will seem to linger forever for most of us but in nature all the creatures are watching the sun and adjusting to the lengthening daylight. Even if it stays cold, when the daylight signals spring, wildlife and wild places will be ready for the real spring ahead, especially in the Middle of Nowhere.

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