Just like almost everywhere else, it has been cold here, very cold. The mercury has not seen the high side of freezing in a week. This morning, I awoke to 4 ºF (feels like -13 ºF) and some more of that white fluffy cloud poop was raining down upon us. We’ve hardly seen the sun in days, but yesterday it was out. The roads were dry too. So, field trip time! I brushed off the car and we drove up to the Riverlands for some quality bird watching, where now it is peak season.
The cold has made this year’s winter birding season even better than most. As I said, we are a week into this cold snap and there is another even colder week yet to go. Crossing the Missouri, I noticed that it, with its nine knot current was still pretty much ice free, but I later discovered that the Mississippi, with its slower moving current was mostly iced over. At the Riverlands, the slough was mostly ice covered, as were the inland pools, except where there was water fowl.
Congregating in these ice free oases were hundred, nay thousands of birds. They were so tightly packed in them that it was a wonder to watch when any new birds arrived to land on the ever diminishing, but remaining open water. “Out of my way!” We did most of our bird watching from the confines of our running vehicle, with the heated seats set for butt blistering hot. So, not very many steps, but the floodplain was wide open and exposed and very, very cold. We did walk a little around the visitor’s center, where the pictured swans swiftly glided by.
That was a fortunate occurrence, because most of the open water oases were too far away for any very good photography. The one exception to this was just below the lock & dam. There with the sluice gates still open the river was still ice free. The rushing water passing through these gates also tends to stun the fish, making them easier prey for all of the birds gathered in the dam’s wake. Hundreds of white pelicans had gathered there. Battling the current, these birds would swim upstream as close to the open sluice gates as they could manage, before tiring and then giving up to float back downstream again.
I never saw any of the pelicans doing any fishing during their processions, but they did devote much energy to scaring away any and all impertinent gulls who happened to land on the water near any of them. Then occasionally a Bald eagle would sweep by. There were three or four of them below the dam and we saw a total of maybe six. All in all it was a good expedition.