Breakup turned out to be on the mild side this year and we enjoyed one of the few non-flooding ones we have had in the last 15 years. Once we had our initial flooding, we still had 12 days to go before reaching the final breakup and all of the ice disappeared from the river channels. The weather remained overcast and cool right up to the day before ice went out. Then with a week of clear skies, warm nights, and temperatures up to +56F, our snow pack receded rapidly and by the end of the week the only snow left was from the deep drifts around all the buildings.
As the tundra rapidly emerged from under the snow, the geese started building nests and laying eggs. The late spring seems to have depleted some of the Greater White-fronted Geese’s body reserves for egg laying, and the clutches have been much smaller than normal. Last year the average clutch was 6, and I even found clutch counts as high as 10. This spring most White-front nests are running between 2-3 eggs, which is quite a drop in production.
Above is a photo of a White-fronted Goose nest, and to the right is a gander trying to draw attention away from setting female.
The Snow Goose is the other large goose that nests in our local area, and while they arrived about two weeks behind the White-fronts, their clutch size seems to be down by about 30%.
Above shot shows a pair of Snows and the male is a blue morph. Photo to the right shows a Snow Goose nest with the white down used to cover the eggs when female is off the nest.
The Brant arrived much later than the White-fronts and their egg production is normal, with an average of 4 eggs per nest. Out of several hundred Brant nests, the highest count so far has been 5, and a very few 2 egg counts have been found. At this time it looks like it is going to be a very good year for the Brant colony.
A Brant nest showing the dark speckled down and how much more down the Brant have in their nests, compared to other geese. Nest on mound with old Caribou skull.
Other waterfowl that will be nesting near by are Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Northern Pintail, the lovely King Eider and perhaps this year for the first time since 2003 we might have a Spectacled Eider nesting near our lake.
With nest boxes available, the Snow Buntings were the first to start nesting and some of the eggs should be hatching shortly. Both the Savannah Sparrow and Lapland Longspur are also nesting, but I have only found Longspur nests so far this spring.
The Semipalmated Sandpipers were the first shorebirds to start nesting and it looks like it will be another good year for them, as I have already found several nests in a small area around our Lodge.
Some of the other shorebirds near-by the lodge that are “on territory” and will be nesting shortly, if not already started, are Pectoral, Dunlin, Red-necked Phalarope, Red Phalarope, and Black-bellied Plover. I have seen Long-billed Dowitchers, and Stilts close by also, so perhaps we will get a nest from one of them. All the Ruddy Turnstones seem to have moved off to other islands to nest, with just the odd one or two that are still coming into the feeder for a quick bite.
Today I watched a female Hoary Redpoll pulling long dog hair from one of the willow bushes by the house, so she is working to line her nest, thus should be laying in the next day or two. She is probably the only Hoary to line her nest with silky Pyrenees dog hair!
Remember, we now have 24-hour daylight…the land of the mid-night sun. This is a time of year filled with bird songs and there is never a time when birds cannot be heard, photographed, or just observed. Shortly the yard and surrounding area will be full of young Snow Buntings begging to be fed.
Willow Catkin, the first flowering plant by the house this year.