One day this past week I heard a male cardinal singing from the top of a tree in the alley. That same day, Em El reported seeing a male cardinal feeding seeds from the feeder to a female. Later on, she also saw the female fluttering her wings, as the male retrieved more seed from the feeder. This is a courtship ritual where the female mimics the behavior of a helpless nestling, and the male then feeds her. Northern Cardinals typically begin to breed in March, so these birds have begun courting right on time. Soon they will be looking for a nest site, if they haven’t found one already.
I went out Friday and spent the whole day driving around up in northern parts of the county. I spent some time at Prettyboy, where there were tracks in the snow to follow, but the snow depth still prevented easy walking. I had to keep watching where I was stepping, so couldn’t accomplish much in the way of intensive birding. This was fine, though, as it wasn’t particularly birdy out there. I walked down to the edge of the reservoir, which was partially frozen over. The open water was much too far away for me to tell if any waterfowl were present. I saw and heard mostly titmice and chickadees, although I did find one Brown Creeper working a snag along the trail, which made the trek worthwhile. As I headed back I found a solitary Blue Jay loitering around not far off the trail. Another singing male cardinal rounded out the walk. No one else was present on the trails, and the snowy silence did my soul good. I only wish I’d remembered the camera!
After Prettyboy, I drove around on some back roads, hoping to find a flock of Horned Larks, and possibly a Lapland Longspur or two mixed in with them, but I had no luck. I did see some sparrows along the roadsides, but nothing very exciting. The best bird was a single sprightly Savannah Sparrow, hopping around on top of a snow bank. On the same road, I found an impressive flock of at least 300-400 blackbirds feeding on some exposed patches in an otherwise snow-covered field. I didn’t have a scope and couldn’t pick out many individual birds, but it looked to be mostly Common Grackles, with a few Red-winged Blackbirds mixed in. I could see there were a few smaller birds, too, but they were too far away for me to identify. The flock also kept rising up and shifting back and forth, which while presenting an arresting visual image, further hampered my attempts to pick through the flock for any interesting individuals. When I reached the end of this road, I spotted a chipmunk poking its head out of a tunnel it had dug through the center of a three-foot high snowbank. It quickly reversed direction once it saw me approaching.
I ended the day at Irvine Nature Center, which was significantly birdier than Prettyboy, in part because of the feeders the staff maintains throughout the woods. Many White-breasted Nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice crowded the feeders. A titmouse even treated me to a cheery song, which made the otherwise very wintry landscape feel less cold for a few moments. Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers were present in healthy numbers, as well, but not the Red-headed Woodpecker I had hoped to find. I did not find many sparrows, either, only a few juncos and a single Song Sparrow. After another hour of tromping through snow up past my shins, my boots were soaked through and my feet had grown quite cold, so I called it a day.
I returned home to find water finally surging freely through the rear downspout, and most of the ice melted off of the rain barrel. This warm spell arrived just in the nick of time, as those icicles were looking more menacing with each passing day.