Yesterday, we were walking in Tower Grove Park. It was a beautiful day, the best so far this year. Warm and sunny at 65 ºF. Anne was doing her usual bird count, but was not having much luck with it, when we met this macaw. A guy was walking his bird. What’s more he was walking it barefoot. It was warm, but not that warm. He said that he has had the bird for twelve years, but they can live to eighty. The guy looked older than us. He said that the bird was in his will. Later, we walked by the park’s fountain that was still covered in ice. We may be enjoying a February thaw, but we still have some winter yet to go.
Yesterday, we took advantage of the warming (note not warm) weather and journeyed north to the Riverlands, our go to winter destination. We saw Bald eagles, Trumpeter swans, Snow geese and White pelicans. We saw many other birds too, but still need to key them. The ground was snow covered and the water iced over, except below the dam. The Corps had left one of the sluice gates open and the roaring water kept the downstream river ice free. The open gate was on the far side of the river, closest to the lock. This caused the pelicans to congregate close to us, on our side of the river. This made photography much easier. The eagles seemed to prefer the rushing far side. They kept diving on fish in the river, but inevitably stopped just short of the river. The pelicans who simply floated on the water seemed to have more luck, but there were many more of them too. The swans and geese mainly kept to very small pools of open water or simply sat on the ice. After the Riverlands, we crossed into Illinois and headed north along the River Road to Grafton. The river was frozen, but we saw a few more eagles sitting out on the ice, plus a couple cold Great Blue herons.
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.