May came in on a strong wind and it has continued on the windy side with 12 of the first 19 days having winds of 20 knots or more. Besides being windy, most days have been overcast with blowing snow, creating many whiteout days.
Today we are into "day four" of the latest wind storm, with visibility less than a mile in blowing snow and mist. The temperature over the past 24 hours has been pretty steady with a low of +26F and a high of +28F. With all the drifting snow and temperatures below freezing the tundra is still 100% snow covered and almost no grass above snow level.
Despite the storms, birds have been working their way north. The southern part of Alaska has been having very warm temperatures and it looks like this has prompted some birds to continue north sooner than they should have. The worst species to be hit hard (that we know about at this time) are some of the eiders. We started finding King and Common Eiders weak and dying as early as the12th of May, and most have been females. Perhaps these are birds that were migrating on east to northern Canada, but ran out of body reserves and perished in our area. We wouldn’t expect King Eiders that are going to nest in the Colville Delta to arrive before the last couple days of this month or first few days of June.
Roosting Willow Ptarmigan-Male just starting to get summer feathers on its neck and head.
Here on the homestead our first migratory birds (Snow Buntings) returned on the 17th of April as I reported in “They’re Back” in April’s blog. Earlier this month some of our Willow Ptarmigan showed up around the house, even roosting outside our bedroom window for a couple nights.
Today even with this wind we have had six new species arrive: a Savannah Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, Hoary Redpoll, Short-eared Owl and a Sanderling. Only the owl and Sanderling kept going, the others were happy to find food and shelter out of the storm, joining our Snow Buntings and Ruddy Turnstones at the feeders. The Savannah Sparrow and some of the female Longspurs seem quite weak and after eating from the feeders, took quick naps before going back to refuel on more seed.
Resting Savannah Sparrow
Sparrow preening after eating, getting ice off its feathers.
For most of these species, this is an early arrival date, some by over a week. Also, we would expect to have only male longspurs, in the beginning, with the females trailing 4-5 days behind them. Today we have 6 females and only one male at the feeder.
Female Longspur – good view of long hind claws
As hungry as these birds have been, it makes me wonder about all the ones that didn't find our place with shelter and food and how many will perish from this late spring storm. Combine this with the many birds coming north too soon, and it is a sad picture of many lost birds.