Bill’s Bench coming in time for favorite birds

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By Sylvia Brockner

The ice went out of Evergreen Lake faster this year than I have ever seen before. One day it was honeycombed, with a few openings along the north and west shore, and the next day it was all open. The long spell of warm weather had weakened the ice, and a windy morning set up water movement, and the ice began to break up fast. By midafternoon the lake was free of ice from shore to shore. It was good to see the open water and a chop on the lake, even though the wind was bitter cold. I stopped by again the next day, and once more the cold wind sent me scurrying home to sit by a fire.

Song sparrows were singing, and red-winged blackbirds were courting and defending their territory in the cattails when I went by the lake on March 26, but there wasn’t much other bird activity — it was still cold and windy with the promise of snow by morning. It appears that we are finally going to get some winter weather after over a month of early spring.

If you haven’t done so before now, this is a good time to study the red-winged blackbirds in their many varied plumages. Some birds are in full adult plumage, sometimes referred to as breeding or alternate plumage. Others appear to be in the same juvenile brown streaked plumage that they were wearing when they left last fall, and then there are still others that run the gamut of everything in between.

When I was at Bosque del Apache last month, I saw a bird all by itself sitting in a shrub; it had a coal-black back and a heavily dark brown streaked breast. My first thought was, What in the world is that? I studied the bird for a moment and was finally able to find a few red feathers on one shoulder. I had just come to the conclusion that it was a molting first-year male red-winged blackbird when six more redwings joined him and confirmed my identification. They can be very confusing. Females are always streaked brown. Adult males are black with red and yellow epaulets, which are spectacular when displayed during courtship, but young or molting birds can be really interesting. Since few other spring migrants have arrived yet, this is a good time to hone your identification skills, for these showy birds are beginning to display among the cattails.

The male’s “kon-ka-reeee” is loud and gurgling, clearly heard over the wetlands on warm spring days. The female’s harsh rattle announces her arrival, usually about a week later than the males.

Mountain bluebirds and robins have returned in fair numbers. Robins, however, have been having a difficult time because it has been so dry. Angleworms do not come to the surface when the ground is so hard and dry. As a result of this, robins have been forced to eat juniper berries and even seed beneath the birdfeeder. Thank goodness for the snow that has finally come. The moisture is long over due and most welcome. As soon as it melts, plants will begin to green up, robins will be running over our lawns and leach fields eating angleworms, and the willows will burst into bloom. Alders are nearly finished blooming, and the aspen trees will soon open their fat furry buds to dangle their catkins in the April breeze.

It is still snowing as I write, and the few flakes that fell earlier have turned into a real blizzard. It looks like we may receive the 2 feet the weather forecasters have predicted. I am most grateful, but it would be nice if it didn’t all come in one storm. I can scarcely see the birds at the feeders it is snowing so hard. They are very hungry and trying to get their stomachs filled before nightfall. About 12 pine siskins, a couple of gray-headed juncos, the usual chickadees, nuthatches and a hairy woodpecker are about all that have come in so far. There must not be any unusual birds in the area, for if there were they would follow the others to the feeders.

Many people have asked me about Bill’s Bench. The Park and Recreation District is already working on repairing the boardwalk. It hopes to have the bench up by the first Sunday in May, which is the Dawn Chorus date, or as near to that date as weather will allow. Hope to see you then.

As I finished this article, the first starling of the season has just arrived at the feeder; I am not happy about that but it is inevitable. If they try to take over your bluebird boxes, pull their nest out to discourage them. Our native bluebirds need the nest box more.