Redwing Spring – 3/11/2022
Although official spring is still two plus weeks away on the calendar, it showed up today in the form of arriving redwing blackbirds. They don’t seem to be much celebrated, but redwing blackbirds are some of the hardiest and most persistent and earliest harbingers of the end of winter.
Today was a classic day for spotting the new arrivals. Morning broke mostly clear and chilly – the thermometer was stuck at fifteen degrees. But the weather forecast predicted a climb to the mid-thirties. That meant a further shrinking of the already-receding snowdrifts that cover the field in patchworks along with the tawniness of emerging field grasses. Late winter is an ebb and flow as the remaining snow starts each day crusty, then by late afternoon has softened and become slushy with puddles forming around the edges, but then as evening comes on and the air cools, the drifts freeze hard again.
You never seem to see the Redwings coming. Instead, one early March day, like today, they seem to just materialize in all of the willow sloughs and cattail marshes. And you never see just one “first” redwing of the season. Instead, the aspen tree that was barren all winter, barren yet even this morning, suddenly holds a dozen redwings.
They must make their migration pushes in the daytime. On this day I walked four miles out from home and then, as planned, I doubled back. The downside is that I recover territory I have already seen that morning; the practical upside is it keeps me on the backroad and off of the highway. Interestingly, the areas where I saw redwings on my walk out held noticeably more redwings on my way back, even though it had only been an hour or so since I had first passed by. I stopped to listen at one point, and I could hear layers of cackles and trills far back, deep into the woodlot.
Today’s sightings I know are just the scout troops. In the next few days, the migration will grow full force. Predicted rain is falling today, so surely by the next time I walk out that way it will seem that every tree and every willow whip and every molting cattail will hold a redwing trying to look and sound fierce and/or attractive – depending on the gender of the one who listens.
A single goose comes honking, no doubt searching for a farm field where the snowdrifts have receded enough to expose some waste grain from last fall’s harvest. He probably spent the winter here but he will soon be joined by myriads of brethren chasing defeated winter retreating further and further north. Then the sky will be filled with goose music and many more people will notice. But today belongs to the cackles and trills of the Redwings and the few who take notice.