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A Year of Birds: March 2022

March is certainly coming in “like a lion” here in North Michigan with snowstorms, cold wind, and bitter weather. When temperatures sitting near zero still, it feels as if my hands, feet, nose and even eyes hurt if I am out too long. My visits with the birds when I feed them are short on the coldest days, but I feed daily, knowing that with the snowdrifts and ice still so deep, they depend on it.

I think to years when I lived further south, where March brought in warm weather. I joke with my friends that it feels like the “eternal winter” of Narnia, and we all talk longingly of warmer weather and when it will come. The birds and wildlife seem to feel the same way. I feel sorry for the chickadees, who must forage even when it snows, and make sure plenty of seeds and suet are available.

two chickadees on a branch
These chickadees must feed all day long in order to maintain their weight, especially in cold weather. They even forage when it snows

One weekend, I went with two friends (one of who is an avid photographer) up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in search of snowy owls. While we didn’t see any owls, I did get a picture of a Harrier Hawk and a Kestrel (who was sitting on a fence), so the trip wasn’t a total bust.

Harrier hawk flying
Sights like this Harrier Hawk flying are common in North Michigan in late winter

Kestrel hawk taking off
Kestrels are beautifully colored hawks, and can be quite shy

But it was disappointing, after spending an entire day hunting, to not see a single owl. On the way north, we saw some blue ice, which on occasion is seen in winter on Lake Huron, and I took a picture.

Blue ice can be found in northern Michigan when the conditions are right

Finally, on the 19th, the weather warms above 30 degrees (F) for the first time in months. The sun is out, and there is a mist over everything as the snow evaporates and the ice begins melting. The currents break up the ice in the bay, and I hear geese flying and honking overhead. Spring really is coming! The tundra-like conditions are giving way to patches of bare brown earth between snow clumps, and the chickadees start hunting in the flower garden for stray seeds as the earth slowly warms.

The Bufflehead, Merganser and Golden Eye ducks are starting to show up on the bay.

hooded merganser and golden eye ducks on the bay
Two hooded mergansers and a golden eye male on the bay

They are beautiful, and I love the Golden Eye mating display, where the males throw their heads back at what seems an impossible angle, in order to attract a female. This is a sign that spring has truly come at last, and I am glad.

Golden eye male throwing his head back in a mating display
Golden eye males have a dramatic mating display in which they throw their heads back

The great migration will start soon, and I will begin to see familiar birds once again. Already, I have spotted the first robins in the garden, and their cheery red breasts and ringing songs proclaim warmer weather is near.

Now, it’s March 24th, and a red-letter day for bird sightings. I saw the first blue heron! This majestic bird covered with gray-blue feathers was slowly walking the just-melted waters in a marsh near Misery Bay, and with his appearance, I knew -spring is really, truly here. Regardless of the fact that yesterday it snowed, the yearly return of the herons is a sure herald of warmer temperatures, and that winter’s frozen pall is coming to a close.

Blue heron in early spring north Michigan
The Blue Herons are back, so it’s officially spring!

I also sighted what looks like a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk, sitting on a telephone pole. He allowed me to approach quite closely, keeping a wary eye on me, but he never left his lofty perch. It has been a good month for birding, and I look forward to April when warmer weather will bring migrating birds.

sharp shinned hawk on a fence post

This hawk is beautiful as he sits hoping to spot a meal on this old fence post

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