The snow falls in big fat globs of collected flakes. Wet and sticky, it is collecting rapidly on trees, shrubs and what few perennial herbaceous plants have had the nerve to put forth new shoots already.
It is May, and one would expect to see May flowers blooming, but alas, they are not. At least they are not blooming in any numbers. This is our seventh month of winter, and I am not happy to see more snow falling. However, such weather is expected in springtime Colorado where cold arctic air bumps into warm Gulf Coast air fairly regularly.
Spring migration is always a magical time in the bird world. May brings interesting birds to Evergreen Lake as soon a the ice is out, but you can almost bank on wet, cold, snowy days to produce something special.
This was true last week with a wet, spring snow lingering over several days. May 12 was the kind of day that I open one eye to peek at the day and when I see snow outside the window, I roll over and go back to sleep. However, that may be the day I should get up and go to the lake.
This year on May 12, Loie Evans reported a yellow-headed blackbird at Evergreen Lake and on Thursday, May 13, Warren Roske and Loie Evans both reported a black-necked stilt at the lake. Both of these birds are unusual at the lake, but are both found nearby on marshy flatlands.
My guess would be that both of these birds were caught in a wet soggy snow, which began to accumulate on their wings. Such a weight of snow would eventually force them to land to shake off the snow and to seek food, for flying with that extra weight would use more energy than normal and would be very tiring.
Such birds usually stay for only a short time. As soon as they have been able to feed and rest, they are on their way again. I feel sorry for them because many such birds do not survive, but it is a golden opportunity for us to study these tired visitors.
Yellow-headed blackbirds are birds of cattail marshes. They nest in abundance in a cattail marsh near Barr Lake. Ever since cattails have grown in our wetlands at Evergreen Lake, I have felt that the yellow-headed blackbirds would someday nest here. I still do. Almost every year we have a few, mostly females and immatures stop off during migration. Eventually, when nesting conditions become too crowded in the plains cattail marshes, one of these birds will “remember” our wetlands and come back here to nest.
They may dispossess a few red-winged blackbirds, but that is of no real concern for redwings are very common birds and will nest in a greater variety of places. They will nest in small shrubs, along road ditches, almost anywhere within flight distance of water. Yellow-headed blackbirds will only nest in cattails and thus are restricted by the number of available places in our semi-arid climate.
The black-necked stilt is one of the most graceful, elegant shorebirds. Their extremely long pink or red legs and their black-and-white feathers give them a very elegant appearance, rather like a long-legged man in a tuxedo. They too are much more common on the plains. They can easily be seen in the Bear River marshes in Utah and occasionally in small ponds on our plains. They are extending their range northward and are being seen into Canada now.
As the snow slowly melts, we work our way into spring. There will be a few more exciting days of migration before June brings the end of migration and summer sets in. I haven’t seen a western tanager or black-headed grosbeak yet this year, but they normally return by the first week of May. These and other summer nesting birds should be in this week along with the warmer weather.