The Darkest Hour is Just Before the Dawn

Winter scenery at LSCMP - lone tree (683x1024)That’s how I think of this time of year, the last few weeks of winter. We know spring is coming eventually, but we still have to endure the frigid temperatures and stark winter scenery a while longer.  As February turns to March, it gets harder and harder to tolerate the bare trees, the frozen ponds, the silence of the birds, the cold wind. We’re anxious to have any sign of the rejuvenation of life in the natural world. But there is life out there — you just have to go looking for it. And that’s exactly what we did today.

Lured to Lake St. Clair Metropark by reports of a Northern Shrike in the marsh, Eric and I bundled up in long johns and fleece layers and ventured out in search of this potential life bird. I was also looking forward to seeing my first-of-year Red-winged Blackbirds too, a much-needed harbinger of the rebirth of spring.

Great horned owl in bucket 2013 v3

Mama Great Horned Owl in nest bucket

We made our first visit of the year to the Bucket Owls, local slang for the Great Horned Owls who nest in a bucket every year. All we could see was the top of mama’s head; someone had seen the male out in the marsh but we couldn’t find him. The staff at the nature center said they won’t be climbing up to check the nest until the end of March, so nobody knows how many eggs the owls have in there right now, or whether they’ve hatched yet. So exciting.

The new marsh boardwalk -- isn't it great?

The new marsh boardwalk — isn’t it great?

Next we walked over to check out the brand new boardwalk through Point Rosa Marsh. It’s absolutely wonderful, and I can’t wait to spend time out there after the marsh thaws out. There were a couple young girls enjoying the new access to the marsh too; one was practicing her landscape photography skills.

Young photographer braving the cold

Young photographer braving the cold

There were very few birds anywhere in the marsh area. We did spot a lone bird perched atop a far tree — possible shrike? We watched it move to two other treetops even farther away. I regretted not having the spotting scope with us but shot a couple photos of the distant bird, hoping to be able to identify it by enlarging it on the computer. Eric was confident he saw the black wing markings of a shrike, but upon examination of the photos I just couldn’t tell what it was for sure. I’m disappointed to think that I might have seen the shrike but can’t confirm it for my life list. I guess even if I knew it had been the shrike, I’d still not be too happy about adding it to my list based on such a distant look. Maybe I’ll try again this week, especially if the temperatures get a little higher…the 40s would be excellent. Heck, I’ll even take upper 30s…just sayin.

Courage Rydell - dog with his own FB page supposedly (1024x731)Before we left the marsh I chatted with this fellow about his dog. I asked him if I could take a couple pictures of his dog and he amiably allowed me to do so. He even helped get the dog into position for me, telling me the dog’s name was Courage Rydell and that he has his own Facebook page. He seemed very proud of his beautiful canine companion. I can’t seem to find the dog’s page though, so I’m not sure if I’m spelling it wrong or if the guy was pulling my chain. But either way it warmed my heart to hear him brag about how many photo albums he has of the dog, and to watch him stroking the pup as he talked. A man and his dog, right?

A young birder watching the Red-winged Blackbirds

A young birder watching the Red-winged Blackbirds

By now we were feeling the effects of the wind coming off the frozen lake, and headed back toward the car. I was dejected at not finding any Red-winged Blackbirds though; I had been so confident of finding them because others had reported them being around already. As I started down the sidewalk toward the parking lot, suddenly I heard it: Conk-la-ree!! I looked up to see a male redwing flying over my head to join a flock of a dozen or so others in the trees beside the nature center. What timing! I told Eric that they’d come just for me — and I believed it. I think the universe knew that I really needed to hear that song today. My smile must have been a mile wide right then; it was just perfect. (Eric clearly thinks I’m nuts, but that’s ok. If this is nuts, I’ll take it.) Now that I have proof that the Red-winged Blackbirds are here, I can make it through these last few weeks of dismal weather. If those fragile creatures can take it, so can I. Bring it.

Ice fishing village on Lake St. Clair. Now THAT'S nuts!

Ice fishing village on Lake St. Clair. Now THAT’S nuts!

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8 Responses to The Darkest Hour is Just Before the Dawn

  1. Littlesundog says:

    I would love to watch the Great Horned Owls! Are you still watching that webcam out of Oklahoma City, where the Great Horned Owls nested in a window box and have two little owlets?

    Oh, I really enjoy your photographs, Kim! And I hate to admit this but when I lived in Nebraska I had many ice fishing days! The cracking ice was enough to drive a person mad!

  2. I love the Bucket Owls! And the new boardwalk looks wonderful. I am sure you will spend many happy hours there in the years to come. I like to fish, but I have to say ice fishing holds zero appeal to me. I want to be holding a fishing pole in my hand when the sun is on my back, not when the ice is underneath my feet!

    • Kim says:

      Kristie, I love the owls too! Here’s my post from last year showing one of the baby owls peeking out from under the mother: I hope they have a successful brood this year too.

      I don’t fish myself but I totally understand how it would be much more enjoyable when the sun’s on your back. This ice-fishing is so odd to me — when I’ve looked out at some of those guys with my binoculars, they all look so miserable sitting there half-asleep at their poles. I wonder if they’re really having “fun” at all. Brrr.

  3. Steve Kahl says:

    Really beautiful, Kim. Thank you for sharing your day. I was able to enjoy your walk without even being there.


    Steven F. Kahl
    Refuge Manager
    Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge
    6975 Mower Rd.
    Saginaw, MI 48603-9783
    P (989) 777-5930 ext 16
    Find us on Facebook!

    • Kim says:

      Thank you, Steve! I’ve been enjoying your periodic notes to the SE Michigan birders list about what’s happening at Shiawassee NWR. Last summer was my first visit up there and it was incredible. I hope to spend another day there when the weather gets a bit nicer, and it would be fun to write about that too.

  4. I just read an article about that park today. About how the mudhens, rails, and other wading birds are making a comeback since some invasive grass has been eradicated in the park. I may have to make a trip over some time. Sorry about you not seeing the shrikes, better luck next time!

    • Kim says:

      Yes, the fight against phragmites is an ongoing battle, but they appear to be making some progress. It’s a fabulous park and would be well worth your drive over to this part of the state.

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