Monday, February 20, 2012

Monday Phenology: February 20, 1920

Posted by Kirk
Monday will be a big day for the sun. The sun will rise at 7:06 and set giving us 5:47 PM giving us 10 hours 40 minutes and 35 seconds of sunlight. We're not quite at 11 hours yet but as of Monday we'll be gaining three minutes of sunlight per day.

Nature's Week in Review:

Monday a light snow began to fall in the afternoon. It was so light I joked that it was hardly there. I was surprised when snowplows began to run down my street by the evening. They were likely mostly out to put down sand and salt though we did get a little accumulation. At my house it appeared to be about half an inch.

Tuesday was a cold valentine's day. On the way home I spotted a flock of birds crossing the road. As I approached I could see they were all landing in a very large bare tree a few hundred feet off the road. I pulled over to watch as more and more birds flew into the tree. I pulled out my binoculars and could see they were American Robins. It was hard to get an exact count but I would put the numbers at slightly more than 100 birds. It was an impressive sight.

Wednesday sunny till noon then overcast and then snow. First a light few flakes then it really came down. In the morning I had to go outside to manually reposition our web cam we have on a bird feeder. During the night, raccoons had used it as a launching off point to raid the feeder. The camera was tipped away from the feeder and there were muddy footprints all over the lens and housing.

Thursday the first American Robins appeared on site in the morning. I would not be surprised of overwintering birds had been on site earlier in the year and we just missed them. Based on the 100+ I saw just a few miles away on Tuesday it would be very possible. Overall, Thursday was a Beautiful day with a high of 36°. The sun made it feel warmer and a quick look out the window at the wet sidewalks made it clear that we lost snow pack. There were reports online of a hermit thrush. There have been many interesting reports of lone birds this winter but it is unclear of these are migrants or birds that have stuck around during a mild winter. Birds that are sticking around are likely heading further afield than their usual winter haunts as the temps rise and there are other feeding opportunities. This movement probably causes an increase in sightings. For the second day in a row I had to reposition the web cam in the morning because of raccoons. They are out on these warm evenings as they look for food. Hopefully I've raccoon proofed the camera this time.

Friday I wasn't sure what to make when my co-worker Julie told me about her morning sighting of a Scarlet Tanager while driving to work. She got a nice look and watched it fly right in front of her car as she drove down the road. She watched it the entire time it moved from one side of the road until it disappeared on the other side. It was bright red with black wings. She went though all possibilities of what else it could be but couldn't think of anything. The only other red bird around would be the Northern Cardinal but they don't have black wings. Julie has seen Scarlet Tanagers on site many times and swears by her identification even though she finds it incredible herself. According to e-bird the state record earliest Scarlet Tanager was reported by Michael Huber on May 2, 1998 at Hyland Lake Park Reserve. This would be over two months earlier than the state record.There is, of course, the possibility that this is a bird that overwintered. The latest reported Scarlet Tanager in the state was November 10th back in 1996 but in 1987 there was a Summer Tanager reported at Carlos Avery WMA as late as December 5. If a tanager can survive well into December in Minnesota it is conceivable with the warm winter we've had that a bird could just stick it out. Do I think that's really what happened? I'm not so sure. I think there's a good chance she saw a white-winged crossbill. I checked on snow at the end of the day and there was virtually no snow anywhere but on north facing slopes in the woods. 

Saturday I headed out of town for a valentine's day getaway and other than the fact that it was hot this weekend, I have nothing else to report.

What to watch for:

We'll come close to an 11 hour day but won't quite get there until next Monday. According to my records I saw Horned Larks, those bringers of spring, on February 22 last year. The 22nd is next Wednesday. Keep your eyes open along rural roadsides. There have already been reports of Horned Larks just south of the Twin Cities.


Unknown said...

Most intriguing sighting of the crossbill or tanager. A tanager, even if it successfully overwintered, would not yet be in breeding plumage, would it, and therefore not red? Sibley says non breeding plumage till March...

Kirk said...

I was wondering the same thing Penelope. I suppose we're close to march but for me it just points even more to the crossbill.

Unknown said...

Yes -- My husband opines that an overwintered tanager, that usually relies on an insect diet, would be *really* stressed, even though the winter has been mild from our perspective, and you'd think would be very unlikely to go *early* into moulting (which takes a lot of energy) and breeding phase. I don't know how true that is, but it seems logical. Pine grosbeak also a possibility?