Winter loosens its grip

It was easily 20°F warmer this morning than yesterday, and plenty of critters were taking advantage of the relative warmth in Estabrook.

The river is still mostly empty of birds, but the ones still there were in surprisingly posy moods this morning. Here’s the bufflehead hen all by herself near the southern edge of the open water far below the falls and up for a breath from foraging on the bottom.

Here’s the drake foraging above the falls and looking fancier than we may have ever seen him.

Also above the falls was this single goldeneye hen busily sprucing herself up.

At the far north end, I heard one of the red-tailed hawks and could just make it out in the trees on the far shore. I risked the ice, perhaps for the last time, and hiked out to the northern island, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a trio of bluebirds, perhaps the ones from January and December.

The big surprise, however, came as I crossed the softball field between the beer garden and the pond. On my way, I checked the few pine trees along the north edge of the path, and look who I found foraging on the ground below them: about a half dozen white-winged crossbills (Loxia leucoptera)! This is the first time I’ve ever knowingly seen such birds. Ha!

The folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology describe them as “a gem of the northern woods,” and explain that they “spend most of their time prying into spruce cones with their twisted bills.” In fact, “individual white-winged crossbills can eat up to 3,000 conifer seeds each day.” What a treat to find them right here in Estabrook.

I didn’t see anybody new at the pond, so I returned to the river and found our mallard hen, who appeared to be done with winter, up on the path again and heading for a seep in the side of the bluff to have a soak.

Further south, the river is still completely frozen, so I was on the upper path, halfway up the side of the bluff, and that’s where I found this white-breasted nuthatch behaving as I’ve never seen them behave before. They are usually in constant motion, similar to chickadees, but this one stayed put, only about 10 feet above me, and struck several heroic poses for us.

There were even a pair of nuthatches nearby noisily chasing each other from tree to tree, but this one ignored them and stayed put. I wonder what its game is.

Finally, just as I neared the south end, this red squirrel didn’t quite know what to make of me and stretched out to get a better look.

Published by Andrew Dressel

Theoretical and Applied Bicycle Mechanic, and now, apparently, Amateur Naturalist. In any case, my day job is teaching mechanics at UWM.

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