It's been fun being out on the Indiana University cross country (XC) course lately...
I'm seeing more and more signs of spring with each passing day. This is a wonderful time of year, as our dark snowy winter gives way to the sights, sounds and smells of nature slowly renewing itself. The usual suspects continue to sing loudly and often, providing the background chorus: Eastern Bluebird, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Song Sparrow, House Finch, and Northern Cardinal. Tiny shoots of green have started to poke up through the dead XC course grasses that were matted down by this winter’s prolonged snow cover.
I heard my first XC course Eastern Meadowlark song of the year on Saturday! Yesterday there were several singing and calling on the XC course, and I flushed 9 meadowlarks while walking through one small area. To me, these birds are the IU XC keystone species. Meadowlarks are what inspired me to lobby Indiana University to stop unnecessary mowing on the XC course two years ago. It’s really uplifting when these birds return in full force each spring. Makes me feel like I’ve done something positive for at least one small patch of this Earth.
Some additional highlights from the past 4-5 days:
* One very big highlight would have to be the Sandhill Cranes. See: http://bird-bs.blogspot.com/2010/03/lots-of-sandhill-cranes.html
* I found BIGBY species #75 for the year on Saturday...a Savannah Sparrow singing in a 20 acre meadow immediately adjacent to the XC course. It took me a while to locate the bird for a visual ID, but I eventually did. I now need 25 more BIGBY species before April 29 to set a new record for my earliest date to get 100 BIGBY species. I think I can do it!
* I heard my first Field Sparrow song of the year on Saturday. Same meadow as the Savannah. Not a new BIGBY species for the year, just the first *singing* FISP. Heard another FISP singing yesterday, as well as this morning. I really like this song. Not cheerful like some birds...more of a melancholy plaintive air to it.
* I watched a Pileated Woodpecker fly across a quarter mile stretch of grassland. I love to watch Pileateds fly out in the open. They have a really unique flying pattern...almost like they’re swimming or rowing through the air. This bird flew into a 5-6 acre patch of mostly pole-sized timber. Apparently it found one of the best woodpecker drumming trees in the world. The drumming was loud. It sounded like a cross between a jackhammer and the noise a semi-trailer truck makes when it’s engine-braking.
* Late yesterday afternoon there were two White-breasted Nuthatches on the same feeder. One bird gave the other a sunflower heart from the feeder. A mated pair? I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for a nest cavity.
* The American Tree Sparrows and the White-throated Sparrows were conspicuous by their absence this morning. Their numbers have been dwindling, but today I didn’t see any. I guess winter sparrows moving on is a sign of spring. :-)
* Lots of smallish flocks of Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds flying overhead, heading north. The Red-wings are flying closer to the ground now, and quite a few have been heard singing in the neighborhood. Interestingly, I haven’t heard any Red-wings singing on the XC course.
* Finally, this morning, there were a half dozen Red Slider turtles basking in the sun atop rocks in an apartment complex pond on 10th Street. The pond was completely covered with ice last week. That’s gotta be a sign of spring!