Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
For those of us living in Northern Iowa, it’s been a spring to remember. Or perhaps I should say, a spring to forget. Our extreme weather has been so over the top that most of us can’t even remember how many late season storms or how many inches of wet snow we’ve received since the middle of March. Come to think of it, I can’t even remember how much we’ve received in April. It seems to never end. So how bad is it? Well, my Mom is 91 and she says she’s never seen anything like it.
Iowans aren’t alone in this. While hunting spring turkeys late last week, my friend Dave Thomas and I were run out of Nebraska’s hill country by a rapidly approaching blizzard that local weathercasters predicted would be worst of the season. Visibility was reduced to the point that, in South Dakota, I-90 was closed east of Rapid City. Returning safely to Iowa, we found that the weather back home was not all that much better than what we’d left behind.
Last weekend’s winter [spring?] storm system delivered just about everything imaginable – hurricane winds, thunder and lightning, torrential downpours, sleet, hail, and heavy snowfall. How’s that for variety?
The severe weather system definitely got the attention of area wildlife. Activity at backyard bird feeders was insane. Bird traffic was so heavy that I had to recharge feeders four times on Saturday. The show included 22 different species and with 30 to nearly 100 birds visible per feeder at all times, it was largest number of winged visitors I’d seen all winter. Everyone seemed to have the same feeder frenzy story; reporting the most birds and greatest variety they’d seen all season.
At times, the scene was almost surreal – an unlikely and bizarre combination of the usual winter residents integrated with newly arriving spring migrants. Robins tried scratching through the snow alongside foraging fox sparrows. Grackles and red-wings competed with cardinals. Seed guzzling mourning doves fed shoulder to shoulder with jays and juncos.
More than an inconvenience, spring snowstorms are life threatening events for resident as well as migratory birdlife. Not all birds are well equipped to handle winter weather. Huddled against the blowing snow, a solitary hermit thrush provided a grim reminder that not all birds will complete the spring migration. During the course of the weekend, I observed at least three completely tailless birds at the feeders. The birds had undoubtedly lost their rudders when long tail feathers froze to nighttime perches as Friday night downpours became Saturday’s wet freezing snow. While these birds still have a fighting chance of survival, I’ve seen and heard of others that will not. Although accurately assessing the storm’s impact is impossible, one thing is certain. For Iowa birdlife, spring cannot come soon enough. While we’re all waiting, don’t forget to keep the feeders filled.