Ushered in on the winds of super storm Sandy, southeast Michigan’s 2012/2013 winter birding season kicked off with a fury.
Birders had hints that the winter 2012/2013 was going to be special year even before Sandy’s arrival when red-breasted nuthatches began showing up at backyard feeders as early as September.
Soon after Sandy’s arrival in late October, flocks of pine siskins arrived joining more common winter visitors like dark-eyed juncos, tree sparrows and song sparrows as well as transients like white-crowned sparrows and eastern phoebes. Even more unusual for southeast Michigan was the arrival of crossbills – both red and white-winged.
If your timing was fortunate, it was possible to see all of these birds in addition to summer holdovers like red-winged blackbirds on your feeders at the same time.
As winter wore on, an unusually large irruption of common redpolls occurred, replacing pine siskins which seemed to disappear in late winter.
Food, or more precisely the lack of it, was the primary factor for these irruptions as many seed-eating birds ranged far from their typical winter locations in search of the seeds and catkins of birch, maple, pine, spruce and hemlock trees which were in short supply as a result of a crash in Canadian seed crops.
But southeast Michigan backyards weren’t the only location to experience unusually high numbers of certain bird species this winter.
Steve Kahl, Manager of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge (SNWR), also observed the irruptions of seed-eating birds at SNWR, but in addition, the saw a dramatic increase in the number of overwintering ducks and geese. More than 23,000 Canada geese sightings have been reported so far this winter which is almost 50 times the number of overwintering geese seen in a typical winter. “We attribute the unusually high number of waterfowl to below average snowfall cover that provided the birds with easy access to exposed corn”, said Kahl
With winter quickly giving way to spring, numerous reports are already coming in of red-winged blackbirds and robins. And over at the SNWR, Kahl reports recent sightings of tundra swans, sand hill cranes and wood ducks. “The next two weeks should be great for viewing tundra swans” says Kahl, pointing out that the refuge typically receives about 750 of the migratory birds each spring.
Sounds like a great time to grab your binoculars and get outside!