Sunday, February 9, 2014
I visited this Delaware County residence yesterday, after being tipped off to the amazing assemblage of birds by Dick Miller, whose sister and brother-in-law, Mike and Becky Jordan, reside in the home. Mike and Becky have been very gracious in extending their hospitality to visitors, including your narrator, which is much appreciated!
I'm not going to post their address on the Internet, but Mike and Becky do welcome birders who would like to witness the phenomenon that unfolds in the following photos. If you would like to visit, just send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pass along the pertinent information.
It was a frosty 2 degrees F upon arrival, warming only to 16 F by my departure. Observing and photographing this spectacular flock of birds was well worth lying in the icy snow, and enduring the Arctic temperatures.
The birds now seem to recognize Mike, and when he heads out in the morning, grain bucket in hand, they begin swarming towards the house, filling the air with rattles and whistles.
The BIG THREE of midwinter open country feeding flocks are Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and Snow Buntings. All three species are in this image. The buntings are self-explanatory: brilliant white flashes adorn their wings and tail, hence one of their colloquial names, "Snowflakes". A dark-winged Horned Lark is bookended by Lapland Longspurs at the top of the image, and another lark is bottom left. Just to the right of the lower lark is another longspur, showing its white outer tail feathers.
The earliest of these tough songbirds will begin to arrive at Arctic breeding locales in April, when winter still has a strong hold and conditions are harsh. One way in which they cope is to burrow into the snow at night, creating sheltered bivouacs. Mike and Becky have observed them doing just that in the adjacent fields, in order to survive subzero temperatures and brutal wind chills.
The name "longspur" stems from the greatly elongated hind claw, which can be seen in this photo.
I will leave you with this brief video of birds swarming about the Jordan's drive. The action will probably remain strong as long as snow blankets the ground, but when it melts the birds will forsake the cracked corn donations and head back into the fields to forage.
Thanks again to Becky and Mike for their hospitality, and I'm sure that buntings/larks/longspurs thank them as well. Again, if you wish to visit, feel free to contact me for information.