Northland Nature: Encounters with some southern birdsWhen travelling in the south during April, I feel like I’m looking into the future of what will be happening later in the spring in the Northland.
When travelling in the south during April, I feel like I’m looking into the future of what will be happening later in the spring in the Northland.
After months of a snow cover, it’s nice to look around during a walk and see none. Tree buds of green leaves are starting to open while others are showing their blossoms now. The April woods here in the Ozark country is a gem to behold with pink flowers of redbuds and white of serviceberry and dogwoods.
The forest floor comes alive, too, and while walking I see that the first spring beauties — bloodroots, violets, toothworts and trilliums — are beginning to bloom — a sight likely to be in May in the north country.
Spring is different here but holds many similarities to the north as well. Many of the flowers are like those in the woods near Duluth, but just earlier. I look forward to seeing them bloom again later; I hope to see two springs.
The similarities are much more than with flowers. Butterflies that I’ve seen recently, such as mourning cloak, spring azure, red admiral and tiger swallowtails, are very much like those that I hope to see again a bit later this spring. Morning birdsongs of the robin, red-winged blackbirds, chipping sparrow, juncos and yellow-rumped warblers are what we are used to hearing in the north.
Other birds sing and breed here, but do not get to the Northland. Each day, I hear songs of Carolina wrens, Carolina chickadees (very similar to the black-capped chickadees), cardinals and mockingbirds, while the caws of fish crows are heard overhead. Also flying over are the flocks of black vultures. These birds are similar to, but different from, their cousins that we are familiar with.
Prior to our arrival in these greening hills, we travelled in the dry lands to the west: prairie, sage country and desert. All of these arid places were made more so, with recent droughts. At several sites, I noticed more birds that were unlike, but similar to, the ones we have in the Northland. I observed spotted and canyon towhees, Bewick’s wrens, Say’s phoebes, violet-green swallows, scrub jays and cinnamon teals.
I was also fortunate enough to see the large roadrunners, the state bird of New Mexico, as they hunted reptiles among the sage plants. Crossing the prairies, I saw and heard the western meadowlarks with their magnificent melodies. No wonder they are state birds of several of these grassland states. But one of the most notable state birds observed was that of the scissor-tail flycatcher, the state bird of Oklahoma.
Members of the group of birds called flycatchers are usually not so colorful and highly diverse. Many are very hard to identify. They are frequently small with drab features. All live up to their name and feed on insects. Typical flycatcher hunting behavior is to sit on a perch and take short flights out to snag an insect in midair, and then immediately return to the landing site.
Were it not for such a long and elaborate tail, the scissor-tail flycatcher would hardly be noticed. It does feed like others of its kind, and I’ve seen several as they were seeking insects from utility wires along roadsides. The back is gray, wings dark with salmon-pink undersides, along with a bit of red in the “armpit.”
Quite a handsome bird, but it is the very long black-and-white tail feathers that make it more than just a cute bird. Not a lot of color or a loud song, but with a tail like this, it’s hard to not notice a scissor-tail flycatcher. With the extension of this caudal appendage, it can be up to fifteen inches long, far beyond that of other members of the flycatchers and more than double of many kinds.
This bird of the great tail in the south central United States is worth seeking and seeing if you get in this region, but birds also tend to wander, and virtually every year or two, one is observed in the north country. A few years ago, on a June day, I saw one perched on a fence along a rural road in Carlton County. Though a rarity in the area, it was easy to identify.
Most of these southern birds will not return north when we do, but they add much to a delightful spring-day Ozarks, and much to look forward to seeing later in the Northland.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.