Spring along Mississippi
by Stan Tekiela
June 10, 2012
Photo by Stan Tekiela©
I've just returned from leading a birding trip along the Mississippi River in Southeastern MN and western Wisconsin. Seven brave souls came along to see what we can see. I have been leading this very birding trip for 22 years. It is a trip that I always look forward to doing because in mid March we start to see the first signs of spring. Normally snow blankets the hilly landscape and there is often a hint of spring in the air. Usually some of the migratory birds are gathering along the river. In particular Bald Eagles gather in large numbers. I recall in the beginning if we were extremely lucky, we would see a dozen or so eagles. The participants would stand with binoculars pressed to their eyes soaking every detail of these majestic raptors. We would high five each other with gloved hands in celebration of our terrific find.
Now when I lead this trip we see hundreds of eagles and we spot a dozen or more Bald Eagle nests. The turnaround in the eagle population is something that I have witnessed firsthand. Every year more and more eagles are spotted along the river. This year's trip didn't disappoint us. We saw over 100 Bald Eagles and at one stop we had 12 to 15 eagles flying above our heads at one time.
However there was something very different about this year's trip. Yes, something we have never had experienced before. Something very strange and crazy unusual. What was this strange thing plaguing our trip? Well, the temperatures were in the mid 70's with a warm breeze out of the south and the sun was shining. Here it was the middle of March but we were having summer-like weather. And the signs of spring were everywhere.
The south winds from the past couple of days have pushed up migrating birds in the upper Midwest by the boat- load. American Robins were covering every open patch of ground. Flocks of American White Pelicans flying in large V-formations were making their way up the river. Huge flocks of ducks, too numerous to count were also winging their way up the Mississippi. Killdeer were calling
At one stop we had an Eastern Phoebe belting out its familiar spring call. Song Sparrows were actively calling from the wetlands at one stop. Tulips were already 4 inches tall and a magnolia tree was starting to flower. Signs of spring were everywhere. Very strange for this part of the country.
Over head, the eagles where playing on the strong south winds. Adult and juvenile eagles were engaging in aerial jousting. Usually this is reserved for the adults during courtship but on such a wonderful day even the youngsters were engaging in the fun flight.
From the shallow ponds we could hear Western Chorus Frogs calling. It is the males who produce the sounds creaking sound. The females only need to be good listeners to pick out the strongest and best males. We could tell the water was still very cold because these tiny frogs, about the size of your thumbnail, where croaking very slowly, indicating they were not fully warmed up after winter. Remember they are cold blooded and so their bodies match the temperature of the water.
This is what I love about nature. Even after more than 20 years of leading the same birding trip, each year is different, always changing, and always interesting. I hope to be leading this very trip well into the future. Until next time
Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the US to study and photograph wildlife. He can be followed on Twitter.com and Facebook.com. He can also be contacted via his web page at www.naturesmart.com
Column List | Back to top