Birds taking small steps into spring

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The first one-third of April has been much colder than normal, with an expected daily high of 45 degrees and a low of 25 degrees; a normal average is 35. But not this April — the temperature has averaged near 20 degrees in the first 10 days.

At the National Weather Service, a record-setting low of two degrees was set April 8. At my house, I noted three days of zero degrees or below: 2 degrees below zero April 1 and zero degrees April 4 and 8. Only once before; April 4, 1995, had I seen such cold in this month.

This cold combined with a snow cover left from a snowy February. The ponds and lakes were still under ice that is slowing the early spring. Going back to the first snow Oct. 27, our region has had snow on the ground for more than 170 days and iced lakes for nearly 160 days.

The snow, ice and cold have slowed the approaching spring, but the longer daylight and scattered warm temperatures tell us of that the season will be arriving. We look for many happenings in early spring and with some searching, maybe more than normal, I have seen a few: crocuses blooming, dandelions with blossoms, alder catkins forming pollen and silver maple buds starting to open, female or male. Not as obvious as in some years, but all of these are taking place now. And also a bit slow, the migrant birds are moving into the Northland as well.

During my morning walks, I visit a small river where the moving waters have opened up a section near the road. Northing water birds have discovered this little non-iced site and I have observed pairs of hooded mergansers, wood ducks and buffleheads here. On one of the zero-degree days, a cold great blue heron settled in to fish. Lingering ice cover has slowed these birds a bit, but overhead, I note Canada geese and bald eagles that are coping with the present conditions. On the morning of April 12, as I passed a wooded section, I heard drumming from the season's first ruffed grouse. But what about the songbirds?

Each day for the last couple of weeks, I have been searching for sights and sounds of these smaller birds. They seem to be more reluctant to move in. I suspect that some of the snow storms that we have heard about to the south of us are hindering their vernal flights. But slowly, these songbirds are arriving.

At the bird feeders where I have been giving food to about 10 kinds of birds throughout the winter, most of the same species are here now, but there are some changes.

On about the first of the month, the flock of redpolls that numbered about 40 for months started to expand and now — about 100 are present. I'm sure that these migrant birds are flocking to move north soon; this is their wintering in the south.

On the fourth, they were joined by a couple of purple finches. These birds, larger than the redpolls, wintered to the south of here. And then on the seventh, I looked out to see a bright yellow goldfinch dining on seeds. Goldfinches have been sporadic visitors at the feeders during the last months, but they were in drab olive-green winter plumage. This one was in bright yellow plumage.

It was during a walk on the eighth that I watched a long-anticipated view of a robin. The silent bird just sat and looked over the scene. On the next day, this robin was heard greeting the dawn with its "cheer-up" song. But it was not alone. Also on the same morning, a mourning dove "coo coo"-ed at the break of day.

It isn't as rapid and loud of a movement of birds from their southern winters returning here as some years, but they are arriving in the region. Many years, by this time of April, I have also seen the return of red-winged blackbirds, grackles, song sparrows, fox sparrows, phoebe, pine siskins, flickers, sapsuckers, hermit thrushes and even the first warblers, but not so this year.

I'm sure a few of these have shown up in the Northland, but they've eluded me so far. Despite their slow movements, I look forward to seeing them a little later. Yes, there will be a spring.