February 20, 2017

SUBJECT: Sandhill Cranes Arrive Early!

Check out our local pair of sandhill cranes "painting" their feathers to help blend in with the local environment.

Looking back through the La Crosse, WI climate records, we have not had one month with below normal temperatures since August of 2015 and over the past two years only three months found temperatures below normal. This continued, crazy pattern of strange weather is certainly manifesting itself here in the month of February, 2017.

Temperatures for the first half of the month were about average, but that all started to change about ten days ago and for the past three days highshave been in the 60’s (F). That’s over 30 (F) degrees above the normal. Yesterday’s high of 65(F) was an all-time record for La Crosse, WI. Similar records were broken throughout the Midwest over the past three days.

We do occasionally see record highs set, but what is amazing about these warm weather events is the duration. Typically, the only way to get warm temperatures like this to occur in the winter is to be on the warm side of the low pressure system. These warm weather events are typically short lived and only hours in duration, not days. Nothing like we have been seeing as of late.

The reason why I elaborate on this is because these long duration warm weather events are causing birds to migrate earlier than normal.

Sandhill cranes were migrating by the thousands in Northern Illinois on Saturday. This prompted me to get out first thing on Sunday to survey the neighborhood for migrants. Here is a list of some of the migrants that are here many weeks ahead of schedule:

-          Sandhill Cranes (Our resident pair are back after departing late, last November.)
-          Canada Geese
-          Mallard
-          Trumpeter Swans
-          Red-Winged Blackbirds
-          Common Grackle
-          *Belted Kingfisher
-          *Great Blue Heron
-          **American Woodcock (peenting)

* Because our creek stays open year-round, I am not quite certain as to if these species have migrated in or toughed it out all winter. I have seen a Great Blue Heron in our creek in previous winters and this fella may have adapted to our climate.

** Heard by Karla Bloem

Above a Tufted Titmouse sings up a storm...and I think we are going to get one!

As this warm weather event continues for a few more days with more temperatures in the 60’s(F), I suspect more migrants will make their way north. It looks like this warm weather event will last two weeks in duration before temperatures fall back to near normal or below.

This change back to normal will more than likely bring heavy snows throughout the area. Some of the computer models are indicating over 20" of snow on the ground by the end of February.


Honey Bees Foraging for Food
The warm weather is also causing honey bees to forage for food. (Our neighbor raises honey bees and he has 6 hives on our property. We love having the bees and our neighbor keeps us supplied with their honey.) Since the warmup, we have had many bees at our bird feeders and I wondered what it was they were after. They are gathering bird seed dust just as if it were pollen. They are also carrying millet seed as well. I looked up this strange behavior and I guess it isn’t that unusual in the early spring when no flowers are blooming. I did put out some sugar water, but they had no interest in that at all.

In the video above, you can see a honey bee collecting cracked corn dust as pollen. Also notice the millet seed attached to its leg.


International Festival of Owls
As a final note, don't forget the annual International Festival of Owls is coming up during the first weekend in March. You can read all about it here.

—Alan Stankevitz


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