March Birds

I decided to make one single post about the birds that arrived in March. It’s a month that sees a lot of change, and it’s worth celebrating as a whole. Winter gave way to spring, both on the calendar and in our weather. A cumulative foot (or more?) of snow gave way to meltwater and streams that were full to the brim. As that happened, the ground became open and soft. Not much was frozen by the end of the month.

With the changing temperatures came the first spring migrants. Things were slow at first, with only a small trickle of waterfowl making their way through on the few spots of open water on the metro area’s many lakes. In the first week I only encountered five FOY species:

42: Tundra Swan
43: Cedar Waxwing
44: Redhead
45: Canvasback
46: Trumpeter Swan

Of these, only the Cedar Waxwings didn’t fit the waterfowl pattern. I ran into a flock of them outside a supermarket in Fitchburg. They’re highly nomadic year-round residents that love berries, and you can find them anywhere crabapples or similar shrubs are planted, often in large winter flocks.

From March 12th onward, the birds came into town with increasing frequency. I saw a few FOY birds on each of my days off.

47: Red-winged Blackbird
48: Sandhill Crane
49: Killdeer
50: Common Grackle
51: Eastern Bluebird
52: Song Sparrow
53: Great Blue Heron
54: Wood Duck
55: Green-winged Teal
56: Ring-necked Duck
57: Lesser Scaup
58: Greater White-fronted Goose (lifer #309… they’d been avoiding me)
59: Cackling Goose
60: Turkey Vulture
61: Belted Kingfisher
62: Eastern Meadowlark
63: Ruddy Duck
64: American Coot
65: Fox Sparrow
66: Northern Flicker

You might notice that a lot of the early migrants are noisy. Red-winged Blackbirds, Sandhill Cranes, and Common Grackles are the most vocal of the bunch. On the 12th I left work and felt a change in the air as soon as I got outside. It was warmer and somehow fresher. I took my time getting to the car. When I was almost there, I heard a sound that made the day complete: the first blackbird of the year had let out a call note from a nearby tree. Spring had made its entrance! For the next few weeks, the trees were full of singing robins and blackbirds. This chorus greeted me every time I woke up and left for work. I felt overwhelmed with joy. It’s easy to get used to silence during winter.

It’s hard to go anywhere brushy or reedy these days and not hear Song Sparrows.

The highlight of March for me was waterfowl migration. Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Ducks, and Green-winged Teal are always welcome visitors. By far my coolest sightings were two separate ones of Greater White-fronted Geese. How had I missed them my whole life before then? By being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I suppose. That’s how I missed seeing Snow Geese this spring despite getting out to as many small lakes and ephemeral ponds as I could. I’ve pretty much missed the window in spring when you’re most likely to see them around here. They’re beautiful birds- my favorite goose in the state- but half of the fun of birding is knowing that nothing is a given. There will always the opportunity to see them in the fall or next spring.

Super handsome Green-winged Teal

March was a proper lead-in to spring. Now it’s April and all the snow is gone (for now) and even more changes are happening in the natural world.

No matter how insistent I was, these Mallards wouldn’t fetch that tennis ball.

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