Bird list & other natural events, March 2012

March was the warmest on record for our area, but we’re not alone. The Washington Post notes that many other parts of the country had it far worse; for example:

In Marquette, MI, Wednesday’s record-crushing high was 81 compared to the old record of 49, which even the morning low of 52 topped. The same day Grand Rapids, MI scored its all-time record temperature departure (for highs) soaring to 87, 40 degrees above normal.

I guess it’s comforting that we were only 30 degrees or so above normal? Of course, then we had a pretty good frost Thursday night with multiple more to come next week, judging by the forecast. We’ll be covering the strawberries just about every night this week.

Lots of flowers, birds, and animals have become active over the last month. Both crop pests and beneficial predators have been showing up in force. We feel we’ve had far less time to actually enjoy March this year, due to the early warmup and the associated farm workload, and thus have been missing some of the natural signs and events we like to track. But here’s a look at some things we have documented.

Above, Virginia Bluebells and Swallowtail Butterfly. Two very pretty visitors in this early spring.

Above left, a Western Painted Turtle, our second record of one on the farm. This one was extremely active and not at all shy. Above right, a leopard frog, whose distinctive cackling-laughter call is common this time of year.

Above left, a Western Earth Snake, a new species for the farm according to our records/memory. One of those interesting, obscure species that are part of our ecosystem but are rarely noticed unless you spend as much time outdoors as we do. (Though, ironically, we rescued this one from our indoor cat, who found it first.) Above right, I’m removing a nice-sized Yellow-Bellied Racer from our bedroom. I love snakes and am thrilled to have them around eating rodents, but the bedroom is pushing their boundaries. This one was released in the vegetable field to dine on the vole extravaganza there. Technically this happened at the beginning of April, but March was really April this year anyway, so it’s close enough.

Snakes this year have been very active; we’ve already seen more than we did in summer of 2011, including Rat Snakes, Racers, Garters, and more. This is excellent news for rodent control in the fields, and for our general biodiversity. We were worried last year when we weren’t seeing them.

Lots of new arrivals and behaviors, as one might expect. A comparison with last year’s March list is interesting. Not surprisingly, there were many more new arrivals this March given the accelerated spring.

NEW IN MARCH (13 species)
Great Blue Heron
Wood Duck
Wild Turkey (heard gobbling several times)
Hairy Woodpecker (a rare visitor to our immature woods)
Eastern Phoebe
Louisiana Waterthrush
Eastern Towhee
Field Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird
Fish Crow (an occasional visitor)
Brown Thrasher
Yellow-throated Warbler (maybe)
Chipping Sparrow

PRESENT IN MARCH (27 species)
Canada Goose
Snow Goose
Turkey Vulture
Red-Shouldered Hawk
Red-Tailed Hawk
American Woodcock
Mourning Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Barred Owl
Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tufted Titmouse
Black-Capped Chickadee
White-Breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal
Dark-Eyed Junco
American Goldfinch
Red-winged Blackbird

Fox Sparrow (only seen once anyway)
Great Horned Owl
Northern Flicker

Even in the first few days of April, a number of new birds continue to appear, including Whip-poor-wills and Parula Warblers. Unfortunately, as we enter true warbler migration season, the early spring means trees are far more leafed-out than usual and thus warblers will be much harder to see.

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