While I’m waiting for spring to arrive this year, I’ll recount an experience from last spring that has stuck with me, and of which I’m reminded with every new hint that the change of seasons is really underway. This morning (April 6th), I heard the first Red-winged Blackbirds outside my window, and yesterday my first Sandhill Cranes trumpeted in the distance, probably looking for open water. Every day there is less snow and ice – except for today, when two inches fell overnight, but it may yet melt before the sun sets. What a difference from last year’s record warmth in March, when I was startled to hear Spring Peepers on March 20th, and found myself witnessing the sights below.
Crex Meadows Wildlife Area is owned and managed by the State of Wisconsin, Department of Natural Resources. Most of the management of the 30,000 acre site is paid for indirectly by hunters, through a combination of license sales and a federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition. However, the Friends of Crex Meadows is a very active group that funds management and interpretive programs for birdwatchers, botanists, and other nature enthusiasts, in addition to waterfowl hunters who have traditionally used the area. On this day, I was a birdwatcher, and I made good use of the road network on dikes between the flowages, as well as a permanent blind that was set up on the Phantom Flowage.
The birds didn’t actually seem to mind when I was sitting outside of the blind, but as the cold rain got heavier, I did, and went into the roofed structure. Swans, geese, and any number of ducks swam, foraged, fluffed their feathers, and occasionally squabbled with their neighbors. Occasionally, without warning, a flock would fly up, make a few circles, and land again. As the evening wore on, more and more waterfowl flew in for the night.
They say that pictures are worth a thousand words, and that’s probably true, but what these pictures don’t show you is the way that evening felt and sounded. At times, the noise of so many birds of so many species arriving and greeting each other would be overwhelming; at times they would quiet down and I would only hear muffled honks, quacks, and ruffles as they fed, dove, preened, and settled in with their mates. The rain pattered on the roof of the blind, but when I stepped out, there was barely a sound, and the rain was warm for the season. As I noticed the light on the water turn pink (and the swans turn into flamingos!), I got out to look around… and saw one of the most beautiful sunsets of the year, complete with a double rainbow!