With the temperature soaring into the 60s, wave after wave of snow, blue, and white-fronted geese streamed north and northwest during the last couple of days in February, paying no heed to the human calendar.
“One swallow does not make a summer,” wrote Burlington native Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac, “but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.”
Fortunately, geese are hardy critters, so they’re ready to withstand a fickle Iowa March. And maybe it’s a good thing that thousands of the birds elected to linger at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge and other resting spots. To continue too far north too fast might have taken them into the path of even colder and more snowy weather than has buffeted parts of Iowa these last few days.
Resident songbirds, along with a few winter visitors, mostly hunkered down to wait out the rain/sleet/snow/wind. Goldfinches, juncos, cardinals, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, chickadees, and titmice clambered for a place at our feeder filled with sunflower hearts. A bossy blue jay crash-landed on the dinner table, gobbled all he could, then flapped off into the wind with a full beak.
Even a bluebird, which has survived by learning to eat seeds instead of its typical diet of worms, stopped by for a quick snack.
In sympathy with the birds, I trudged out into the wet, stinging storm for a hike up the driveway to the mailbox. No wonder the birds’ feathers looked so scruffy! The 30-mph wind drove sleet and snowflakes into my beard, under my glasses, and down my neck. I heaved a sigh of relief when I finally returned to my chair by the fire in the wood stove.
The TV meteorologist assured me that the storm is abating, and it will warm up again in a few days. It IS March, after all. We’ve already seen the first killdeers, robins, and north-bound mergansers, goldeneyes, scaup, and canvasbacks. And our diary says the crocuses and daffodils should be emerging.
I’ll try to remember that when I’m chipping ice and shoveling 4 inches of wet snow in the morning!
Turned out we had to shovel SIX inches, not four! The sticky stuff gilded trees and matted down the prairie grasses.
The weather forced the birds to work even harder for food. In sympathy, we topped off our feeders with sunflower hearts and black oil sunflower seeds.
The male cardinal resumed his spring song – albeit from a snowy treetop. And the early-arriving song sparrows did not beat a hasty retreat. Rather, they just puffed up their feathers against the chill.
We still believe our phenology diary, which says that woodcock and turkey vultures should return before long, the chipmunks are about to emerge, and the turkeys will be gobbling at sunrise.
And I’m planning a peek at the secret woodland where SNOW trilliums first bloom.
Keep the faith!