Red-winged blackbirds return for a day
Some birds seemed to think it was spring this past weekend and showed up much earlier than they did last year.
Bill Valtinson of Park Rapids reported having mourning doves in his yard March 11-12. Last year mourning doves returned to our area March 27.
Dick from Lake Emma Township saw a half-dozen male robins Saturday, March 11, as well as male red-winged blackbirds. Dick also spotted a red-tailed hawk that day.
In 2005, I didn't see a red-tailed hawk until March 22, and I didn't get any reports of robins returning until March 25, though we did hear about a robin that spent the winter near Wadena. Red-winged blackbirds weren't spotted until March 26, 2005, in Two Inlets.
That means some of our migrating birds were spotted anywhere from 11 to 15 days sooner than last year. However, I don't know if the early arrivals decided to stay put or not - Dick said the robins and blackbirds were gone by Monday, March 13. Did the birds retreat to the southern part of the state? Do birds retreat once they have started to migrate?
Well, it didn't take too much poking around on the Internet to find out that yes, birds do sometimes migrate in "reverse." While some malfunctioning, young birds actually start off flying in the wrong direction, ordinary, healthy birds will sometimes make temporary "reverse migrations" when the weather isn't in their favor.
That means that in spring, some birds will actually move southward if they encounter unfavorable winds or bad weather. If the weather is bad enough and occurs at a time when large numbers of birds are migrating, the effect can be notable. This happened March 25, 1959, in Iowa, according to an article by Beth Proescholdt. Thousands of blackbirds were seen flying southward in a reverse migration after a high pressure system brought arctic air into Iowa.
In reverse migration, birds resume their northward migration when conditions improve.
I also read about something called "spring overshoot," where birds fly beyond the point where conditions can sustain them. Sometimes the genetic messages inside a bird are so strong they migrate in spite of unfavorable conditions.
One last point on migration: Through the birding grapevine, I learned that bluebirds were spotted in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, Wednesday, March 15, when the high temperature was just 27 degrees. As I was writing this column, a winter storm warning had been posted for that area, predicting 5 to 8 inches of snow March 16-17.
I wonder if the bluebirds stayed in Lake Elmo during the snowstorm, and if they might be heading our way any time soon.
Out and about
Even the chipmunks are getting in early on the act. In 2005, John and Marlene Weber spotted their first chipmunk March 16, but this year they saw one Sunday, March 12.
"He was bounding along the top of the snow," Marlene told me. "I don't know how he got out. There's so much snow and icy stuff."
Marlene wondered if the recent melt-off had flooded the chipmunk's winter burrow.
Peggy from Two Inlets reported seeing her first chipmunk Monday, March 13. She wondered if "maybe this guy ran out of food?"
Peggy saw three swans fly over her house last week and saw geese fly over on three separate days. She also saw five eagles and a hawk.
I saw a very dark and blotchy immature bald eagle Thursday, March 9, flying over CSAH 4, north of Emmaville. Even though the eagle probably was 400 times the size of the juvenile bluebirds I saw last August, that's what I found myself thinking about. All teenagers in the birds world are kind of blotchy.
Judy Novak from 8th Crow Wing has been seeing a pair of trumpeter swans flying over the lake for the past week and spotted a pair "on open water near the channel between 7th and 8th Crow Wing Lakes." By Thursday, March 16, Judy was seeing seven trumpeters fly over her house daily.
Judy says she has both a southern flying squirrel and two northern flying squirrels at her house. The squirrels are similar in appearance, but northerns are about an ounce heavier and two inches longer than southerns. Hubbard County is a little bit out of the range shown for southern flying squirrels in my reference books, but not by much. Maybe squirrel ranges are changing just the way some bird ranges are.
Thank you to all who wrote with news. When sending your reports, be sure to give your name and a little information on where you made your sighting. Send to maureeng @unitelc.com no later than 8 a.m. Thursdays. If it's easier, feel free to drop a letter by the office, or in the mail.
This column is brought to you by Park Ace Hardware. Check out our year-end close out. Twenty-five percent off skates, hockey accessories and equipment.
Open seven days a week, Ace is located on Highway 71 south, Park Rapids, 732-4513. Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks.