March comes in like a Martin
Ducks like rain. Or so I’ve heard from the time I was a toddler, and again from my own son as he’s fed the swill from the duck-rain propaganda machine. Will they never quit? The truth is that ducks are fairly indifferent to rain, though I imagine this time of year they probably actively dislike it, what with with damper wet weather puts on their migration and all. Birders, though, specifically birders looking for ducks, love rain. I plants those moving birds down on small bodies of water that can make them easy to find for a motivated bird-finder. That was my plan Sunday morning as I headed down to Jordan Lake. I thought perhaps the front that had passed through the day before, soaking the area in cold late winter wetness, would be enough to stall some birds on the big reservoir.
That may have been true, but by the time I got down there the next day, for all I knew the waterfowl show had left town, though the Bonaparte’s Gulls were in like gangbusters. Aside from a quartet of distant Lesser Scaup at my very first stop, I rolled snake-eyes for ducks and geese. I did, however, note the eruption of spring related bird activity in the area.
The Double-crested Cormorants flying by included a small handful carrying sticks. The Pine Warblers sang with vehement effervescence. The Red-shouldered Hawks screamed in only the way that they can when a nest is nearby. Even the Juncos, those birds so well associated with winter that their scientific name literally means “winter finch”, were singing snippets of their chittery song, a song that I have to remind myself even exists during those very rare occasions that I hear it in the field (it is a mind-blower,not because it’s particularly melodious, because it’s not, but because it’s hard to get your mind around the fact that Juncos even have a song. Yes, I’ve been in the south too long).
None of those signs of spring to come were quite as arresting, however, as the sight of the first Purple Martins of the year. This year, those martins were a flack of half a dozen coursing over my head as I exited my car at Ebenezer Point on Jordan Lake. For a brief moment I wondered if I’d stumbled upon a remarkably early record until I realized that it well and truly is March, and they’re pretty much right on time.
They didn’t make a single sound, and had I not randomly looked upwards I might have missed them as they circled higher and higher into the sky, off looking for that perfect nest box next to the little farm pond with the white picket fences and the abundant flying insects. The first of what will be the slow return of migrants form parts south every week until the final, head-long, rush of those warblers and tanagers and vireos and whatnot that we love so much.Soon enough.
But first, March. In like a martin, out like a gnatcatcher.