A week of extreme cold followed by a week with a hurricane force wind storm and then a week with a blizzard for the record books, this winter that started so gently has definitely tightened it's grip on Connecticut. But even as winter is in full swing, there were definitely some early signs of spring this past week. First, the daylight hours are getting noticeably longer, which is always a psychological boost. Temperatures that warmed into the 40's during the days melted away a significant amount of snow, but many of the spots I like to bird were still inaccessible. Not to worry though, as thing around home started getting interesting. The bluebirds that arrived just before the blizzard now seem to visit the suet daily. I got some dried mealworms to put out for them, but they haven't taken notice yet, to the delight of the Carolina Wrens and starlings who devour them. Most interesting is the arrival of blackbirds to the feeders, often considered an early sign of spring. They included Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles and Brown-headed Cowbirds. I'd seen all three species in January, but it was surely a good sign, maybe the groundhog got it right. The birds also seems to be singing a lot more in the morning now, as well.
The light snow that fell overnight last Thursday stuck to the trees creating a picturesque setting. I spent the early morning looking for wintry scenes in my backyard, and got some pictures of cardinals, both male and female, on snow covered branches. The woods around the brook also made a nice picture as the morning sun broke through.
Before the snow melted off the trees, I wanted to find another spot, so I headed to nearby Rocky Neck State Park. I took a quick drive through the park and stopped to take a few photographs of the snow covered salt-marsh. Then I walked through the camp grounds and found a noisy group of American Robins feeding near a small pond. Many non-birders consider a robin sighting one of the first signs of spring, but they can usually be found in and around wetlands here throughout the winter.
As it warmed up, the snow started to fall off the trees so I decided to head home. As I pulled into my driveway I saw a Red-shouldered Hawk perched in a tree in my neighbor's yard. For several years there's been a pair of Red-shoulders in our neighborhood, they must nest nearby. Often in the spring they fly territorial or courtship flights around the street and several times I've photographed them at close range as they flew low circles over my yard in a chorus of piercing screams. I grabbed my camera and waited by the garage door to see if the hawk would put on a similar display, but it seemed content to sit silently perched. Perhaps it was too early in the season for the courtship flight. After several minutes, the hawk took flight, heading away, but then banked back towards me and began it's shrieking kee-er, kee-er call. It circled directly over me twice, and sure enough was joined by a larger one, the female, that flew in from behind me and addied to the chorus. The second hawk circled once more and then the pair headed off down the street. I got lots of pictures of both hawks at close range. The sun, which was high in the sky and would normally cause backlighting, reflected up off the snow cover lighting the underside of the hawks beautifully. I did not see any new birds this week, except for a Killdeer in Old Lyme, which I saw in Rhode Island in January. I was happy to find a few old favorites to photograph over the long weekend, including a flock of Ring-necked Ducks feeding in a small patch of open water on a mostly frozen pond. I spent almost an hour photographing as they dove at the edge of the ice to feed, waddled out onto the ice to preen, then went back to feeding. In a few pictures (like the top right) I was able to capture the rarely visible iridescent ring on the male's neck that the bird is named for. Despite the uplifting signs of spring, there were plenty of reminders of the cumulative toll the winter can take on creatures. I saw a pair of Wild Turkeys in Old Lyme that seemed to be playing in traffic as they temped fate by picking for food on the side of a busy road at dusk. A Barred Owl, probably the same one that I saw a couple weeks earlier, hunted along the edge of the road from a utility line in broad daylight. I saw herds of deer struggling, one group browsing at the top of their reach on cedar trees, another gingerly making its way across a field of icy snow. These signs of hardship put a damper on the spring fever. The week ended on a somber note when I saw a Great Blue Heron sitting in water nearly half way up its body. I can't be sure why, but it almost seems like it was at the edge of the water at low tide, and as the tide came in it didn't have the energy to move. I hope I'm wrong, but the outcome didn't look good. New Birds - Killdeer (for CT) Total 115 (112 in Connecticut).