Spring obviously got lost somewhere earlier in April. Thankfully, it appears to have found its way again. I’m writing on a weekend with no snow for a change, and I just came in from an afternoon where I didn’t even need a jacket. The prolonged cold of recent weeks actually had a silver lining, at least if you like birding. Migrating waterfowl were short-stopped for several weeks on local lakes and ponds, when the snow and ice line just north of us refused to budge. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen so many kinds of waterfowl all at once. Early migrants like mallard ducks and snow geese normally lead later migrants by several weeks. Even blue-winged teal, among the last to migrate, caught up with the tail end of the early migrants before they finally headed on north last week.
Later migrants, like many of the summer songbirds, bunched up just to our south until the cold began to release its grip. If warm weather really settles in, it’s likely that many of our migrants will arrive in a much more compressed time span instead of stretching out over weeks. Thrushs, the first yellow-rumped warblers and tree swallows appeared during the past week. Several species of migrating sparrows and purple finches have been fueling up at local bird feeders. Little gray juncoes that have been with us all winter snacking on small seeds are now supplementing their diet with lots of high energy suet to prepare for their long trip to Boreal Forest homes up north.
My favorite backyard birds, a pair of bluebirds that I have written about often in recent years, gave me a bit of a scare. The pair have visited our feeders, bird bath and “their house” almost daily since January. The male began singing his spring song early in April and became very defensive whenever an English sparrow showed any interest in the nest box (a very good sign that they were committed to nesting here for another year). Then the male appeared alone one day. I wasn’t too worried, thinking I had just missed looking when the female was around. The local Cooper’s hawk blasted through the yard a couple of times, and I still hadn’t seen the female bluebird after a week. The male seemed as dedicated to the nest box as ever, but I began to think something bad had happened to his mate when she hadn’t appeared for two weeks. Happy day! She appeared again on April 20, and promptly checked out her house – I suppose to make sure her mate had taken good care of things while she was gone. Did they have a spat? Did she go home to her mother for awhile? I suppose I’ll never know, but I’m just glad that it appears they have made up and are a happy couple again. Their presence sure makes us happy!
I have commented before on a weakness of mine (or maybe it’s a strength). I’m often one of the last to join in trends — whether it be styles (one of the last to wear bell bottom pants way back when), computers (I had an IBM typewriter so why would I need word processing?) or smart phones (I still use an old flip phone that can’t take “selfies”). I could go on, but you get the idea. I was pleased earlier this week to read about a “new” trend in fishing and realized that I had been pursuing what’s now called “micro-fishing” more than 60 years ago! Fishing has been all about catching the biggest for hundreds of years, but micro-fishers try to catch the smallest. The goal is to catch as many species as possible, and there are literally hundreds of species across the country if you’re willing to look for them and think small (even less than 2 inches at times). Their specialized equipment makes most people’s ultralight tackle look massive and heavy. They have life lists just like birders, and their own websites.
My “microfishing” was under a park bridge in Mason City, near where a little creek emptied into the Winnebago River. Air conditioning was rare when I was a boy, and it was always cool next to the small rocky pool under the shade of the bridge. My brother, my cousins and I dangled little bits of garden worms on our smallest hooks down among the rocks to catch tiny chubs, shiners, sunfish and crawfish that lived there. Size mattered less than numbers. It was exciting to see if we could grab crawfish without being grabbed back, and it kept several young boys entertained for hours.
Steve Lekwa is a former director of Story County Conservation.