Bird list & natural events, December 2013

December felt like winter, with mostly below-average temperatures and several winter storms that kept us inside doing much-needed office and housework. The significant temperatures swings related to this month’s storms (64ºF to 7ºF, 58ºF to 1ºF) got us thinking about which months in Missouri have the widest possible range of temperatures, which produced an interesting result:

December_natural_4

Eric had fun playing with the NWS temperature data for Columbia to produce this graph, showing the record high and low temperatures for our area throughout the year, and the gap between them. Winter comes out the most variable, with temperature extremes of more than 100 degrees possible, whereas summer is relatively stable. Spring probably has most of the fastest temperature swings, but the true extremes are already moderating by the time thunderstorm season rolls around. This makes sense to us geographically, as there’s no northern geographic barrier to arctic air being pulled south in winter, while our southern geography is dominated by the Gulf of Mexico, which has a strong moderating influence on truly hot air. There are probably other factors too, like seasonal jet stream patterns, but it’s an interesting data set and concept to think about.

December_natural_1

The first storm produced rain, then snow, blanketing the landscape in a wet mix that temporarily pulled down many fence wires.

December_natural_2Storm #2 was prettier, though no less annoying. A solid day of gentle freezing rain sealed everything in a quarter-inch of ice, producing a beautifully crystalline landscape once the sun came out. However, with continued cold temperatures this ice didn’t begin to melt for many days, making surfaces treacherous and keeping the goats from any pasture as effectively as a foot of snow.

December_natural_3Even in December, insect life is present. We found these vibrant green stinkbugs hanging out in multiple woodpiles, an interesting beetle at the ground surface under firewood, and this native camel cricket nymph in the basement. To learn more about camel crickets, check out the “Your Wild Life” citizen science project on camel crickets. We have a native species of the genus Ceuthophilus.

Our bird list is pretty short this month compared to last December; the weather kept us inside a lot and we didn’t set out a feeder. Most of the usual winter species are here, but we’ve been surprised at the almost total lack of sparrows for the past few months. Eric did observe a really amusing incident one evening; a flock of ~15 geese was heading north along our ridgeline, when he noticed a flock of ~30 ducks heading the opposite direction at about the same low altitude, not far about the trees. Apparently the avian FAA wasn’t doing its job, as these two formations approached at an oblique angle and had a sudden chaotic swerving to avoid close contact. Never seen that before.

RECORDED IN DECEMBER (25 species, 3 new relative to November, 9 unobserved since November).

Canada Goose
Snow Goose
Turkey Vulture
Red-Shouldered Hawk
Red-Tailed Hawk
Bald Eagle (juvenile soaring overhead)
Wild Turkey
Barred Owl
Great Horned Owl (heard, uncertain & distant)
Red-Bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
Blue Jay
American Crow
Tufted Titmouse
Black-Capped Chickadee
White-Breasted Nuthatch
Carolina Wren
Golden-Crowned Kinglet
Eastern Bluebird
American Robin
Hermit Thrush
European Starling
Grey Catbird
Cedar Waxwing
Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Northern Cardinal
White-Throated Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Dark-Eyed Junco
American Goldfinch

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