Many years ago, when our boys were young (they’re 40+ now), we would take them on a road trip to the eastern seaboard of the United States during March Break. Assateague National Seashore was a favourite destination with its miles of barrier beach, pounding ocean waves, and birds that were unfamiliar to us. One year we headed even further south to explore the Outer Islands of Cape Hatteras, sitting way out in the Atlantic and close to the Gulf Stream. My youngest guy and I got sick when we were on the southernmost island, Ocracoke, and were laid up for a day (while Marg and the other one explored). I turned on the TV and lucked into one of the finest sports championships in the world – the March Madness NCAA College Basketball Championships. The format is amazing: the top 64 teams are ranked and placed in 4 “brackets”. Within each bracket the teams are ranked 1 to 16. And these teams play off until there’s a winner in each bracket. Then the 4 bracket winners play off to get the final two and then these teams play off to determine the national champion. The great part of this is that it’s a “single knockout” tournament – if you lose you’re out, no second chances. Usually the higher ranked team wins but….the magic of this tournament is that the “little guy” has a chance to beat the “big guy” – a David and Goliath scenario – and this happens often enough to make it exciting. [This year’s tournament has featured all sorts of upsets.] We – the whole family – were mesmerized by this playoff and it’s become a part of our family’s life ever since.
But there’s another March Madness event going on and the stakes for the participants are much higher: life or death. March, as we’re witnessing, can be a crazy month weatherwise. We had some cold days with a dusting of snow early in the month. This gave way to rain and temperatures as high as +16 which erased the snow (and the Snow Buntings with it). The wetland by the Farm banding area lost its ice and then a lot of the water drained off and I thought I’d be able to set up nets early. But then the rains hit…and hit. The Grand River flooded to bank full and, although there wasn’t a flooding event, the water level in the wetland rose to the point that hip waders would have been required to get around. The water just went down a couple of days ago. But then the temperature plummeted and we are getting frigid winds gusting out of the NW. So….the nets aren’t up yet….but I’m determined they will be.
But what does this rollercoaster weather madness do to the birds? I saw my first Tree Swallows over the river on March 24th. This is a bird that (it seems to me) is really taking a chance. They’re betting that the weather won’t turn so bad that they’ll be able to survive..for a day or two anyway. Yesterday I counted at least 40. But today, after a night of below freezing temperatures and strong NW winds, I didn’t see a one. At the Farm I saw groups of American Robins hunkered down in ditches with water, still unfrozen, in them. Song Sparrows were picking over any bare spots on the laneway – there was even a Fox Sparrow. These birds, like the swallows, are just waiting for a break so they can keep going…if they can hold on.
But it’s an ill wind that blows nobody good and waterfowl seem unfazed by the conditions. There has been a couple of weeks of large movements of them. Earlier in the month there were big flocks of Canada Geese on the move; some flocks even had Tundra Swans mixed in with them. Today the geese and swans were no where to be seen in any numbers but, despite the wind, ducks were plentiful and on the move – most often into the wind. There were 8 species: Wood Duck, American Wigeon, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser. If it wasn’t for the biting wind it would have been a great day to just sit beside the river and watch the parade.
April 1st is just a few days away. Still a lot of work to do to get ready. I might not get it all done but close enough to get a good start to the season. Let’s hope this weather improves!