Looking for Spring in All the Wrong Places
(Listen to the radio version here.)
So far, this winter is in 6th place for Duluth’s snowiest winter on record with more snow predicted this coming week, and we always seem to get at least one snowfall in April. We got five inches this past week, and some of the piles left by the snowplows along Peabody Street are taller than me. Deer are struggling to find food and get around. Some owls are starving, with too many of their rodents hidden beneath the still-deep snow.
On Friday, March 24, I finally saw a ray of hope—a tiny patch of brown, bare lawn in a sunny part of my front yard. And now by afternoon on sunny days, meltwater is rushing in tiny streams along the edge of the street toward the storm sewers. My backyard is still under 2 feet of snow except where Russ keeps a large swath shoveled for our little dog Pip, but since that’s in the shade of the house, it’s still covered with an inch or so of ice and crusty snow.
I’ve seen some Bald Eagles and a Sharp-shinned Hawk flying over, and a Merlin has settled back in the neighborhood.
On and off all winter three Mourning Doves have been showing up, and on March 12, I had an astonishing SIX in my platform feeder—the most I’ve ever seen in my yard at one time in the 42 years we’ve lived on Peabody Street. The doves have been quiet all winter, but this week I’ve heard their lovely calls every morning except during the snowstorm.
All winter I’ve had a handful of juncos and goldfinches—their groups are smaller now, and no new finches or sparrows have shown up yet.
On sunny days as the temperatures crawl into the 30s, my chickadees are starting to visit my feeders in pairs rather than feeding flocks. Two competing female Downy Woodpeckers have been displaying right outside my window…
… and the crows are getting noisy as nesting gears up. Some crows hang out all winter, but the two who nested somewhere right near me the past two years didn’t stay in the neighborhood this winter. They came back this week. I recognize them because they fly into one of my boxelders when I whistle as I go out with peanuts in the morning, and one zips down into the feeder the moment I start to walk away, well before I get to the back door.
So some bird behaviors are promising, but it sure doesn’t feel like spring yet. West Duluth, along the river, is always ahead of my neighborhood this time of year, so Sunday the 26th, my hunger for spring led me to the Western Waterfront Trail. The river is still ice-covered, with both cross-country skiers and snowmobilers out on it instead of a single duck or goose.
The woods and marshy areas along the trail are also ice and snow covered. The snow-covered stretches weren’t too bad, but where the snow melted and refroze, walking was treacherous. Fortunately, my trusty walking stick kept me upright.
Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Common Grackles arrive near the river days before they get to Peabody Street, but there was no sign of them yet. The only migrants I saw were a couple of Bald Eagles and two Trumpeter Swans flying by—I wondered if they were as disappointed as I at the lack of open water.
Thanks to the pandemic, I’ve spent the past three springs hunkered down on Peabody Street, limiting all my spring birding to my own neck of the woods, but this year I’ll be doing some traveling again. Thursday I’m headed down to Urbana, Illinois, for a reunion with my three closest friends from college.
Two weeks later I’ll be in Osceola County, Florida, for a few days, and I’ll be spending the last week of April in South Florida and the Keys on a birding tour. In May, I’m keynoting at a bird festival in Ohio called The Biggest Week in American Birding, and not long after, I’ll be going to the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology’s 2023 convention in Pewaukee. So I’ll be missing much of spring unfolding in my own backyard. I’d gotten used to spending much of spring away from home before the pandemic, but I seem to have become more of a homebody than ever. Even as I’ll see lots of birds during my travels, I’ll be missing my good old Peabody Street friends, and am hoping against hope that my first robin turns up here before I leave.