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Posts Tagged ‘Redwing Blackbirds’

Last Sunday we took a nostalgia drive, down to Walworth County where we first see the redwings every year.  They always arrive at this southern county in Wisconsin before venturing up into our neighborhood.  We knew it was a bit too early in the month to hear that beloved “Oka-Reeeeee” resounding from tree tops and dried cattails, but we went anyway—eager to see some favorite country again. 

For twenty-one years we lived close to this region, and we traveled frequently to favorite restaurants there.  Since moving to the far north, and then home again to the northern reaches of Waukesha County, we have only been back to the Walworth area a couple of times—for apple picking in the fall and gleaning the first sight of redwings in late February or early March.

For a visitor from far off parts who had no idea of the luxuriant growth to come, our land would look like desert at this time of the year.  However, we natives know what lies ahead.  We know that in a matter of weeks we will be inundated with birdsong and those peachy green shoots that give way to deep forest green and more foliage than the eye can register, more than the heart can begin to comprehend.  Rivers will rush, clouds will scutter, and color will spring up everywhere.  But for now, the earth is still sleeping all over Wisconsin. 

Sleep is so precious—to the roots of trees, shrubs, and perennials as well as to most of animal and human life.  I love sleep, and I love to see the earth in its mood of repose, just before the GREAT EXPLOSION! 

Sleep!  As the Old Bard described it in MacBeth: “Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care”!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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If I were Julie Andrews alias Maria, I might be running around trilling “The skies are alive with the sound of music . . . ”  The skies and also the trees, bushes, telephone wires, and roof tops!

The excitement of these days just before and weeks after the vernal equinox will never fade in my heart and mind!  Every time I go outdoors with Baby Dylan, I’m thrilled anew.  When the days warm up, the window in our bedroom will be open to the early morning chorus.  We’ll never turn on our air conditioning for that and other reasons!  When wonderful things happen, we want to experience them!

The snow has melted off the path around our park, and Dylan and I have resumed our walks there.  Overhead we hear the Canadas announcing their travel agenda—and the mellow, reedy “Halloooo, hallooo, hallooo” of sandhill cranes high in the sky. 

Robins are chortling in the treetops.  For weeks now, we’ve heard the “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee” of the you know what—that sweet, fat, and friendly little bird.

The mourning dove is “Whooo-whooo-ing”.  The cardinal has cheered us all winter with his color; now he is “Cheer-cheer-cheer-ing” us with his territorial song.  Juncoes are leaving to go way north, and a variety of sparrows are returning to warble and chip on rooftops. Ducks are gabbling overhead.  The skies are alive!

However, on New Year’s Eve of this year and shortly after, the skies over Louisiana, Alabama, and Arkansas broadcasted not life but death!  I’ve been trying to find answers for that avian tragedy which struck early this year—a tragedy concerning one of my most beloved birds!  Here is a clip from New York Magazine

5,000 Dead Blackbirds Hit Something Very Hard

How and why did 5,000 redwing blackbirds fall from the sky at once on January 1?  It’s the question keeping America up at night.  A preliminary report released Monday evening said the birds showed evidence of trauma in the breast tissue, with blood clots in the body cavity and a lot of internal bleeding, and likely all died from “massive trauma.”  Biologist Karen Rowe told CNN that bird trauma is often caused by a lightning strike, heavy storm, or high-altitude hail, although the signs of trauma may have also been caused by the force of hitting the ground.  Or they may have gotten startled by something and flown into a house, tree, or each other. But then there’s this detail:  Blackbirds do not normally fly at night, and it was not immediately clear what caused the odd behavior. 

The report continues:  Loud noises were reported shortly before the birds began falling, according to the game and fish commission.  “The birds obviously hit something very hard and had hemorrhages,”  Rowe said. 

Here is another report, from www.msnbc.msn.com/ : 

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor:  We mentioned this earlier and we’re back now with the puzzling story of a massive kill of wildlife in the state of Arkansas—birds falling out of the sky, the result of some sort of trauma, and fish found dead in the water, thousands of them in separate incidents in the same state.  We get our report tonight from NBC ‘s Janet Shamlian in Beebe, Arkansas 

JANET SHAMLIAN reporting:  They rain down on a small Arkansas town like a scene from a horror movie.  Thousands of dead black birds on front lawns, and so many in the street, drivers could barely avoid them.  As many as 5,000 bird carcasses littered across a one-mile radius after dropping from the sky on New Year’s Eve.  What could have caused it?  As the state veterinarian examined the birds today, theories have run the gambit from their being hit by lightning or high altitude hail to being spooked to death by New Year’s Eve fireworks. 

Beyond the birds and adding to the mystery, there was a massive fish kill also here in Arkansas just one day earlier.  As many as 100,000 drum fish are dead along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River.  The experts call it coincidence.  Wildlife officials say the fish likely died of disease, not a pollutant.  Janet Shamlian, NBC News, Beebe, Arkansas.

BEEBE, Ark:  Preliminary autopsies on 17 of the up to 5,000 blackbirds that fell on this town indicate they died of blunt trauma to their organs, the state’s top veterinarian told NBC News on Monday.  Their stomachs were empty, which rules out poison, Dr. George Badley said, and they died in midair, not on impact with the ground.  That evidence, and the fact that the red-winged blackbirds fly in close flocks, suggests they suffered some massive midair collision, he added.  That lends weight to theories that they were startled by something.  Violent weather rumbled over much of the state Friday.  Lightning could have killed the birds directly or startled them to the point that they became confused.  Hail also has been known to knock birds from the sky.

One website stated that some of the redwings were sent to Madison, Wisconsin, for further testing, but I cannot find any more info on that.  Meanwhile, not all the redwings are gone!  On March 6th, Joe and I upheld a tradition:  we went to Whitewater, Wisconsin where we first see the redwings  in Southern Wisconsin, in a swamp behind RANDY’S SUPPER CLUB (where we then get excellent prime ribs).
 
What a joyous sight, and sound!  When the redwings arrive in Jefferson County, we can expect to hear them in our county a few days later.  And guess what?  A few days ago, we did.  Yes, the redwings are here—staking out territories high in the trees* and thrilling us out of our shoes with their gorgeous sky music, “Oka-leeeeeeee”!
 

*Note:  I have read that the redwing males arrive first and stake out their nesting territory.  Then the females arrive, and choose the homesite they prefer—taking whatever mate goes along with the site.  That strikes me as hilarious!  I wonder who wears the pants in the redwing culture!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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“To think to know the country and not know

The hillside on the day the sun lets go

Ten million silver lizards out of snow!”

Robert Frost, A Hillside Thaw

Of all my many favorite poets, Robert Frost is probably my MOST BELOVED!  And undoubtedly, A Hillside Thaw ranks alongside Frost’s Reluctance in the category of my MOST BELOVED POEMS. 

Along with much of the midwest, we are clearing out of a doozey of a blizzard.  Joe and I went to our local hospital in an ambulance on Monday, as Joe had his coronary artery symptoms—more severe than ever before.  The storm was brewing then, and the timing was good.  Joe was securely tucked into his hospital bed—with me at his side—for the duration of the blizzard which was just beginning and hit in full force the next day and night.

From commodious windows, I watched the storm beef up and then rage during the nights we were in the hospital.  On both nights, plows ran continuously around and around the parking lots and entrances—keeping the roads clear for emergency vehicles and hospital employees.  At one entrance the American flag whipped frenetically over the scene, as if to symbolize the many storms our nation has weathered through the years.

While hospitalized, Joe had 2 more stents (he is the KING OF THE STENTS!) and he is feeling much better.  Now we are home again, thankful beyond words for medical technology and a cozy home—our earthly shelter from storms.

I just took the (above and below) photos of a mountain which has covered Dylan’s play yard.  (For new readers on this site, Dylan is our sweet and whimsical Pembroke Welsh Corgi.)  Mountains have appeared all around our condo complex, as the village snow removal crew kept our neighborhood accessible throughout the blizzard. 

As I snapped the photo, I thought of Robert Frost and A Hillside Thaw.  The lizards certainly will not break out today, as the temperature is near zero—and probably not tomorrow or any time this week.  But it is February 3rd!  Normally in Southern Wisconsin, redwing blackbirds can return any time after February 24th!  And the lizards come before the blackbirds!

The snow is gorgeous.  The snow is breathtaking.  The snow is something wonderful to behold.  But I have to admit that I am now watching for those silver lizards, thawing and slithering out of Dylan’s mountain!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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