Arb Sightings 3/18/10

Posted on March 18th, 2010 by

The first day of the year in the high 50’s feels nothing short of tropical to those of us who spent the entire winter in Minnesota. And with the vernal equinox only a couple days away, today might be a glorious taste of the coming spring. But not so fast; tomorrow (Friday) the forecast calls for a high of 36 degrees Fahrenheit and a 40% chance of snow showers, with the following week hosting highs in the mid-40’s and lows in the upper 20’s. Don’t get discouraged, however, as these freezing/thawing temperatures are normal for the first week of spring, as is the occasional snowstorm. Even the flooding might not be as bad as previously predicted, as most of the remaining snow cover has soaked directly into the soil (a testament to last summer’s intense drought) instead of running downhill into the river, which is forecast to crest (reach its highest point before receding) this Sunday.

The floodgates of spring, however, have been opened indefinitely, as over the past few days we’ve been seeing large flocks of geese flying north. These harbingers are among the most noticeable signs of early spring, and sometimes the loudest. While most flocks in eastern Minnesota consist of our familiar Canada Geese (affectionately called “honkers” by some), in central and western Minnesota we have a good chance of seeing other species as well. These species all sound more or less distinct from each other, but for those not familiar with their calls it is possible to separate each species simply by looking at the flock itself. If you see a flock of geese flying in a “V” or “W” shape and the birds appear dark, they’re probably Canada Geese, but also look for smaller birds mixed in (these may be the Canada’s smaller but nearly identical cousins, Cackling Geese). If the geese are dark but the shape of the flock is more consistently rounded like a wide “U” then there’s a good chance you’re seeing a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese (often called “specklebellies” by hunters). If the geese are in a “U”-shaped flock but the birds are white with black wingtips, you’re seeing a flock of Snow Geese (some darker birds in the flock might be so-called “blue geese,” which are a dark morph of the same species). And finally, if you see a flock of large all-white birds flying in a “V” shape, you’re not seeing geese at all but rather their larger relatives, Tundra Swans. All these species migrate through southern Minnesota during the last couple weeks in March, so right now is probably the best time to look up. Just today I’ve observed several large flocks of geese flying over the arboretum, including a mixed flock of 40 or so Canada and Cackling as well as an impressive flock of over 130 Greater White-fronteds.

Here are some other highlights from this week in the Arb:

– First Killdeer heard flying over campus 3/18

– First pair of Mourning Doves seen flying south of Interpretive Center 3/18

– Magnolia buds swelling to a width of 1 cm (meaning flowers are not far off) 3/17

Magnolia buds around 1 cm in width in front of Interpretive Center, 3/17/10.

– Grass beginning to green throughout Arb 3/17

– First Common Grackles seen several places in Arb and elsewhere on campus 3/15

 

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