The last gasp of meteorological winter is a cloudless dawn, 26 with a slight breeze. Not much to tell: despite the early light, the birds are late to vocalize, with only American Robins and a Northern Cardinal sounding off before seven. Indeed, male and female robins have been chuck-ing, chirr-ing, seet-ing, and singing (‘cheerily, cheer up, cheer up, cheerily, cheer up’) since before six, as usual. One, over by the library across 10th Street, emits loud and strident calls for minutes at a time, perhaps disturbed by some unusual predator; I haven’t heard a robin give such an alarmed series before.
After dinner and the passing of the Spring Equinox (5:24 PM), I wander down to the pond. Now it’s three American Wigeons: the drake and two ducks, swimming in close association. There are the usual Mallard pairs, and a lone Canada Goose, this time lodged in some weeds in the middle of the shallow expanse, head down and looking defensive, as usual. An American Crow pokes about in the watery weeds, and some Common Grackles and European Starlings stop for a few minutes in surrounding trees, on their way to a nocturnal roost. Blackbirds fly over as well—redwings and perhaps a Rusty or two.
Time to count Turkey Vultures. They’ve been heading back from beyond the stone quarry in small numbers for a couple hours, and they continue to file back west through the Gap to their roost on the other side of Tyrone. By 7:24 PM, when I’m back at the Plummer’s Hollow crossing, it seems like the last one is making its way through, along with a pair of Black Vultures, occasional grackles, robins, and single male Common Mergansers.
I wait down at the bridge, where I parked the car, to see when the last robin will head back. On these crystal-clear Spring days, I have learned that the birds return as late as they can; one of my favorite rituals in the warmer months is sitting up by the crossing with some beers until well after nine, counting down to the last Chimney Swift. It’s easier to figure out numbers in this narrow funnel; back at the balcony, I miss a lot because they are often coming at me head on.
At 7:29, another robin wanders over, and at the half-hour, two more Turkey Vultures flap by. A ‘chip’ nearby alerts me to an agitated Eastern Phoebe, doing its last hurrah. Out on the bridge, I hear a rattle: a Belted Kingfisher rushes past right over noisy HWY 453, avoiding me, then dives back toward the river, heading upstream. Another robin goes by at 7:36; like the rest, it’s heading back to Tyrone or some point beyond.
Satisfied that the show is over, after 35 Turkey Vultures, I drive back into town to pick up some jalapeno slices. A Great Blue Heron matches my path, then veers north. I notice that Rock Pigeons are no longer doing their whirls at dusk; indeed, not a one is to be seen.
At the Save-a-Lot parking lot, an odd sight around 7:48: a close group of one large and two smaller birds is flying rapidly west toward Cemetery Hill. The gloom is such that I can barely make out two Wood Ducks and a closely following Turkey Vulture—a strange flock, indeed! I wonder if the Turkey Vulture was held up somewhere and misjudged the light, then had to rely on the keen sight of ducks, that can fly at any time of the night, to return to its roost. It’s the equinox: strange things happen.
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I've seen climatologists or meteorologists define "winter" as Dec 5 - March 5, because ~Jan 20 is the low point for long-term temperature average.
Strictly speaking we are at the end of astronomical winter :)