Sunday, April 17, 2011

April Snow

On 16 April 2011, we woke to a wet, two-inch snow.  These conditions can be ideal for birding, as hungry birds stick close to bare roadsides.  Most birds are able to retain body heat through a counter-current exchange system in their legs.  Basically arterial blood leaving the body delivers heat to colder veins that return blood to the body. Most heat is retained in the body core. This system can be quite efficient. Nevertheless, the Killdeer in the photo above did not land in the snow, preferring a scarce bare spot in the snowy field. You may also notice that all the birds in these photos have fluffed out their plumage, thereby creating dead air space that retains warmth.
Next I found a cooperative Lapland Longspur.  This hungry bird appeared to be consuming corn kernels from the roadside.  Perhaps this grain was spilled from a farmer's truck last fall or by his taking his harvest to market during the winter.  The longspur was quite reluctant to leave the right-of-way. Snow blanketed most of the surrounding fields and covered other food sources.

Only last March did I take my first photograph of a Lapland Longspur. By comparing images, you can see how much further along into breeding plumage is this April bird.  How often in birding do you finally see birds for the first time, only to find them frequently thereafter!  This encounter also reminds me of another joy of birding--the serendipity of being at the right place and time that permeates our sport.
Usually Vesper Sparrows fly off the roadside and deep into fields.  Today several simply flew up and landed a few feet away.  Vesper Sparrows are usually identified by their junco-like, white outer tail feathers.  In this photo, the white eye-ring and chestnut shoulders are diagnostic.  An archaic name for the species is Bay-winged Sparrow. Vesper Sparrows are declining in the East as fields revert to forests (or housing developments), but remain common breeders in grasslands in the northern plains.

1 comment:

  1. I really liked the photograph of the sparrow eating the wheat. Thanks for posting. Nice blog!