Bird list & natural events, March 2014

March continued the cool, dry trend of this winter, useful for getting outdoor work done but of increasing concern for the coming growing season. It turned out to be a nice birding month, with reasonably stable weather making it easier to observe consistently. A month that began with lows below 0 ended with highs around 70, clearing demonstrating the seasonal changes underway as we appreciate the gentle warming of spring.

October 2013 was the last month with higher-than-average temperature and also the last month our on-farm precipitation exceeded monthly average. Areas just to our south are even drier: the official NWS precipitation gage about 25 miles south of us hasn’t recorded above-average monthly precipitation since May 2013 (all data from these tables). In that June 2013 to March 2014 time period, average total rainfall is 33.15″, our on-farm total is 22.12″, and the NWS gage total is 18.30″. So we’re “only” 11 inches below average precip in the past 10 months, whereas areas just south are closer to 15 inches down. This is why the Western Regional Climate Center’s Drought Monitor Index has southern Boone County classified as “moderate drought” while just to the north we’re only “abnormally dry”.

NOTE: Receiving nearly 4″ of rain in 24 hours at the beginning of April doesn’t change this as much as it might seem; it came so hard and fast that much just ran off, and it takes more than a single rainfall to infiltrate deep into the dry subsoil. What the recent storms accomplished was mostly runoff and erosion of the dry surface that couldn’t absorb it all fast enough. As green-up and leaf-on commences, what moisture isn’t already on its way to Louisiana will be sucked up quickly.

Ice in many forms seemed to be a theme this March. We watched the last (?) snow and ice of winter melt away from our landscape, as in this sequence Eric put together from a week’s worth of photos:march_natural_1Our stream had a very thick blanket of ice, which was undercut by meltwater long before it vanished entirely, leading to these interesting overhanging shelves and their reflections in the ripples of droplets.

march_natural_2

Ice arrived in a different form toward the end of the month, as a pelting of pea-sized hail that did little damage but reminded us of the unsettled Missouri spring that all our young transplants must endure for the next few months.march_natural_3

Spring birds arrived slowly, unsurprisingly, though with 13 more species than February it’s clear that migration is underway. Woodcock mating displays began on the latest date since we began tracking them in 2007; last year’s cold spring was the second-latest. Oddly, Cowbirds and Towhees arrived a week ahead of last year. We heard the first Wild Turkey gobbling on 3/31, echoing through farm’s eastern hollows. Trumpeter Swans made one final appearance on 3/5, after gracing our skies repeatedly in February. Two unusual birds show up on this list: we recorded a Sharp-Shinned Hawk on 3/30 as a new bird for the farm, and Eric was certain he observed a Black-and-White Warbler on 3/31, a clear look through binoculars on a nearby branch in good light, though these usually don’t appear in our area until much later and so we’ll never really know.

2014 2013 2012 2011
Gull, unidentified x x
Ducks, unidentified x
White Pelican x
Trumpeter Swan x
Great Blue Heron x x x x
Snow Goose x x x x
Canada Goose x x x x
Greater White-Fronted Goose x x
Wood Duck x x x
Wild Turkey x x
Turkey Vulture 3/11 3/9 x x
Red-Shouldered Hawk x x x x
Red-Tailed Hawk x x x
Cooper’s Hawk 3/31
Sharp-Shinned Hawk x
Bald Eagle x x
American Woodcock 3/13 3/9 2/22 2/28
Killdeer 3/16 3/8 x x
Mourning Dove x x x x
Barred Owl x x x x
Great Horned Owl x x
Belted Kingfisher x x x x
Red-Bellied Woodpecker x x x x
Downy Woodpecker x x x x
Hairy Woodpecker x x
Northern Flicker x x
Pileated Woodpecker x x x x
Eastern Phoebe 3/13 3/9 x
Blue Jay x x x x
American Crow x x x x
Fish Crow x
Tufted Titmouse x x x x
Black-Capped Chickadee x x x x
White-Breasted Nuthatch x x x x
Golden-Crowned Kinglet 3/21 x
Carolina Wren x x x x
Eastern Bluebird x x x x
American Robin x x x x
Cedar Waxwing x x
European Starling x
Black-and-White Warbler 3/31?
Yellow-Throated Warbler ?
Yellow-Rumped Warbler x x x
Louisiana Waterthrush 3/30 3/30 x
Northern Cardinal x x x x
Eastern Towhee 3/22 3/30 x x
Song Sparrow x x x
American Tree Sparrow x
White-Throated Sparrow x x
Field Sparrow x x x
Fox Sparrow x x x
Chipping Sparrow x
Dark-eyed Junco x x x x
Brown-Headed Cowbird 3/20 3/30 x x
Red-Winged Blackbird x x x x
American Goldfinch x x x
Purple Finch x x
House Finch x
Hermit Thrush x
Pine Siskin x
Brown Thrasher x
Species count 45 48 40 35

Dates of note for some other natural events:
3/10: Heard first Spring Peepers of the year
3/11: Heard first Western Chorus Frogs of the year
3/11: Saw first Mourning Cloak Butterfly of the year; this was our most commonly observed butterfly species this March
3/11: Saw first aquatic turtles of the year at the pond (probably Western Painted Turtles)
3/13: First flowers of field weeds observed blooming: Corn Speedwell, Henbit, & Deadnettle
3/21: First Crocus blooming
3/30: Heard first Leopard Frog of the year
3/31: First wildflower observed blooming: Harbinger of Spring (though we did not make it into wood from about 3/22-3/30, so not certain of first bloom date)
Daffodil buds were swollen by the end of March, but did not bloom during the month.

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