April Ice Storm: Return of the Snow Birds
A nasty snow/hail/ice storm in mid-April brought in flocks of “Snow Birds” that had been absent for nearly a month. At first it seemed that only Horned Larks had arrived, and they stayed in the corn piles for uncharacteristically long periods, feeding hungrily in the midst of the falling ice and snow.
At times, the wind would blow the poor little things sideways along the ice that was covering the ground. Lots of “horns” were raised in displeasure.
A couple of birds checked the sky with heads cocked....
while others stared at me (in disbelief perhaps, as though I were somehow responsible for the storm).
For the most part, the Horned Larks simply ate as much as they could, as quickly as they were able.
I stood inside, in the warmth of the house, snapping a few shots through the window, until I realized that some Lapland Longspurs had joined their Horned Lark buddies. Bundling up in all of my warm Winter gear (in mid-April!), I found a spot to sit in the garden behind a tree, and managed to get some shots of the Longspurs in their striking, "almost-breeding" (alternate)
The wind nearly blew my camera over, and small ice pellets stung my skin, but the birds continued to feed.
Later in the day on the 16th (Monday), a flock of Snow Buntings joined the other birds.
Most of the Snow Buntings were Female, but there were some almost-white Males as well. A few seemed to have paired off already, and stayed close to one another.
By Tuesday, there was a mixed flock of about 100 at times, hovering in the sky, and flying in and out of the corn buffet. A thick layer of ice had covered everything the night before, and I replenished the corn piles several times on Tuesday for the hungry visitors.
A Song Sparrow enjoyed the corn with his Winter friends,
and a pair of Savannah Sparrows arrived (for the first time ever at feeding stations) with the early Horned Larks.
It was interesting to watch all of the Snow Birds feeding on the cracked corn alongside Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, Grackles, and Brown-headed Cowbirds.
Small, desperate rodents ventured out of their burrows in search of food, and joined the birds in the corn piles. I’m not sure if they made it home again or not, with these hungry predators hovering...
Female Northern Harrier
Male Northern Harrier
And in the midst of the storm, a Great Blue Heron sailed over -- maybe he would have liked some corn too? (It’s more likely that he was checking to see if there were fish in the pond.)
It was quite a storm for April. Nobody was overly impressed -- not even Snow Birds that are used to Greenland-style weather.
And now it is time for our little Winter visitors to be on their way to Northern breeding grounds. The rest of us are ready for some Spring weather!