Monday, March 20, 2017

Here Comes SPRING! Sort of.

Now it's official: Spring is here!  That's according to celestial reckoning, anyway.  Here on earth, however, the deep snow on the ground and the ice on the lakes would almost seem to belie it.  But yes, the sun's beams are higher and stronger, making today so warm I had to shed all my tops but my undershirt as I trudged through foot-deep snow at the Ballston Creek Preserve.

Most folks think of robins or bluebirds as the harbingers of spring, but since those two birds hang around here all winter now, I was in search of another bird to signal the warming season.  That bird was the Great Horned Owl that has nested here in the Ballston Creek Swamp for several years, commandeering one of the Great Blue Heron nests that dot many of the standing snags in the swamp.  This species of owl is known to start nesting even before winter is over.  Here's a photo of the owl (her "horns," anyway) that I took exactly one year ago in this swamp, on the first day of spring, 2016.

As I approached the Ballston Creek Swamp today, I could plainly see a cluster of trees still dotted with the large heron nests.  But would I find herons here already?  I rather doubted it, since the water beneath the trees was still solidly frozen, offering herons no opportunity to wade here in search of fish or frogs.  And oh dear, the nest where the owl once raised her young was nowhere to be seen!  Many of the nests that used to dot these snags are gone, probably blown away by some of the fierce windstorms we've had of late.  I wonder if the owls will go somewhere else to nest this year.  I sure couldn't find any owl on a nest today.

Here was the same heronry on March 20, 2016, a flurry of heron mating behavior as the big birds laid claim to the same nests they'd occupied the year before.  On this date just a year ago, the waters of the swamp were all wide open.

Not a single heron could be sighted today.  And they probably won't return for a while, since forecasts are for continued cold weather that will keep the swamp frozen hard.

The same goes for the Osprey pair that nests in this swamp each year.  They won't return until they find open water for fishing in.  They will have their work cut out for them when they arrive, since it appears our fierce winds of late have blown their usual nest apart, leaving only a few disheveled sticks.

I remember visiting this very same woods just exactly a year ago, and the air was filled then with the croaking calls of Wood Frogs and the shrill chorus of Spring Peepers from each of the vernal pools that dot this woodland.  Here is a photo I took of the Wood Frogs in their mating frenzy, with at least three males clinging to the larger female.

Today, those pools were still mostly frozen, and not a single frog could be heard anywhere.  In fact, the forest was absolutely silent, except for an isolated thunk! thunk! thunk! from a Pileated Woodpecker working on a tree.  It may be quiet now, but it won't be long before these woods will resound with a froggy chorus.


threecollie said...

Oh, my, what a contrast! Sorry to see so many nests gone like that. We had a Northern Mockingbird just starting in a wild rose behind the house, but I think he got either relocated or starved or frozen in the storm. Sure was a bad one!

Woody Meristem said...

It will be interesting to see if the heron colony re-locates after losing many nests. Here, the wood frogs were calling in February, but now all the seasonal pools are frozen again.

The Furry Gnome said...

I once saw a Great-horned Owl poking it's horns up like that when I was young and just getting interested in birding. So neat to see!