Why did the Canada goose cross the road? To go with the flow. (Photo at Wadsworth Wetlands by Tim Wallace)


As I write this Saturday morning, winter appears to have returned as a reminder that  mid-March around here is not immune from its influence. Temperatures are in the high twenties and the falling snow is accumulating. Fortunately, though, this act of meteorological petulance is not likely to last long, as temperatures will soon rise into the low forties.

But this past week was lovely. (Cindy wonders what the working class ever did to so offend the Great Spirits that they save the nice weather for weekdays.) On Tuesday (March 16) Tim Wallace and I covered Wadsworth again. The piles of snow that blocked the internal roads and the ice that made them difficult to walk were all gone. Jerry Curran, site supervisor, warned us that one portion of the road was under water so we took an alternative route.

Many of the ponds were still frozen but the river was in flood so some of our marshes had morphed into lakes. Places that we cover by foot could only be reached by wading. Anyone who has been in the field with me knows that I am not at all adverse to getting wet, but as I get older the prospects of being waist deep in icy water is just less appealing that it was but a few short years ago.

This week saw more bird activity than last. Ducks were moving around in small flocks and represented a greater range of species. Mallards predominated but we saw a couple groups of pintails. I am very fond of ducks (as a reader of this blog might surmise) for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the drakes in alternate plumage tend to be easy to identify. And among the ducks, pintails rank high. They are elegant in  plumage and distinctive in shape. They are also among the less common here and tend to be among the first wave of waterfowl to move through in spring, so unless one is active in March it is possible to miss them. (Another early spring migrant which I have yet to see at Wadsworth in five years of surveys is the greater white-fronted goose.) At another pond, I spotted two black ducks, my first of the season. Three buffleheads nearby were also new year birds.

One section of the survey area is a relatively large and deep lake connected to the Des Plaines River. It used to be a quarry. The lake rarely hosts birds except for one brief period in the spring. That period occurs during the narrow window when it is partially open and partially frozen; and I don’t really know why that is.  Over the years I have found a wide range of diving birds, including common loon (during one year when the ice remained into the beginning of the loons migration period through here), horned grebe, redhead, canvasback, and all three mergansers. On this day, the ice to water ratio was perfect but the birds were limited to a couple of hooded mergansers and a flock of about 25 common mergansers. (Later in the day we made a quick stop at the lakefront where we encountered red-breasted mergansers, thereby seeing half of the world’s merganser species.) When I visit next, the lake will probably be completely open and the hot moment will have passed with few rewards. I have made special efforts in the fall to catch the quarry lake when it is partially frozen but that window is even narrower than in the spring, for I don’t think I have ever quite succeeded.

After completing our birding at Wadsworth, Tim and I made a quick foray to Northpoint Marina on the Lake Michigan shore, just south of the Wisconsin border. An area that is usually rife with ducks was bare- a workman said it’s because of repair work being done on an adjacent pier. We did see common goldeneye, greater scaup, bufflehead, and the aforementioned red-breasted merganser.

And as I pulled into my driveway, I was greeted by the mesmerizing calls of cranes. They were flying high, so it took me a while to find them, but directly overhead 125 circled to the northwest and disappeared. I wonder how they are faring today.

A tad too icy to wade (Wadsworth Wetlands by Tim Wallace)


A slowly thawing pond at dawn (Wadsworth Wetlands by Tim Wallace)

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