Snow birds and Sun dogs—it’s been a long winter


I am still recovering from the trauma of my lost December column, still suffering from PTLBCD (Post Traumatic Lost Bird Column Disorder), but I will try to soldier on. The esteemed publisher felt so bad, he finally invited me to his solstice party where I saw many past and present Powderhorn residents and other interesting flaming liberals and radicals, some I had not seen for years. The publisher tried to console me and told me about the Cooper’s Hawk they had recently seen in their backyard, but that didn’t help. I spent most of my time at the gathering, crying quietly and telling anyone who would listen about the publisher’s exploitation and marginalization of the members of the working class. Other than that, it was a very nice gathering.

I have not, as far as I know, had a hawk in the yard this winter, as several neighborhood residents have, and I have not seen any in the park all winter. But I did see a mature Bald Eagle. On Jan. 3, a sunny, 20-degree, windy day, I was watching the usual Crows passing over the block and noticed something different—the Eagle slowly circling, quite low, moving from west to east. It was not headed toward the park, but I went to the park anyway and found only a few crows. With no open water, the Eagle had no reason to go to the park.

I have seen other birds overhead this winter. In early December, it was Canada Geese. On Jan. 26, Mallard Ducks, heading to the park for an early inspection trip, I guess, waiting for and contemplating spring.

There have been very few birds in the park, other than Crows, this winter. I sometimes see or hear a Hairy Woodpecker and a few English Sparrows. There was one small mystery bird in the park on Jan. 23, one of many very cold days. I saw the bird briefly, at a distance, and heard a short call I did not recognize. There was a Winter Wren in the park last January, but this bird was not acting like a Wren.

Even with very few birds or animals, there are reasons to go to the park. Exercise is always one good reason, and another is the first Powderhorn Art Sled event on Saturday, Feb. 16. Some printed and other information said this event was Jan. 26, which was wrong. I don’t know exactly what to expect, but the event is modeled after the Art Car Parade, one of my favorite South Minneapolis summer happenings. If it wasn’t for my almost complete lack of artistic ability and the very cold weather recently, I would suggest getting a group of people together, making sleds that look like Canada Geese, and sliding down a hill and out onto the frozen lake in a V formation. Then madly applauding spectators would throw us bread crumbs which we would fight over unceremoniously. Or maybe not. Anyway, I am looking forward to the Art Sleds, and hoping for reasonable weather.

The yard birding is slow also, as could be expected. The usuals, English Sparrows, Juncos, Pigeons, Cardinals and Chickadees, are around in small numbers. I have only seen one Blue Jay (on Jan. 13) all winter. I was reminded, when reviewing my old winter columns, that House Finches, European Starlings and Mourning Doves used to be regular winter yard visitors, but not lately.
I did hear a male Cardinal’s spring song (“what cheer, what cheer”) late in the month. Sometimes I hear them way earlier in January, but it could be because the weather and other issues have kept me inside too much. The Chickadee’s spring song (Chickadee-dee-dee) has also been heard recently.

I made a few small road trips in January. On one of them to Red Wing and Hastings on Jan. 5, we saw many Canada Geese (in fields and flying), some turkeys, and in Colville Park, on the southeastern edge of Red Wing, nine Bald Eagles (some mature, some juvenile), lots of Mallards and some Common Merganser Ducks. We saw two more mature Bald Eagles near the Mississippi locks in Hastings, and finally two deer, after we were back in Minneapolis, near the state veterans’ home.

On another trip, to St. Peter on Jan. 18, I saw a small flock of turkeys—but the big thing was probably the biggest and best set of sun dogs I have ever seen. It was a very cold day and the sun was almost down at around 4:30 p.m. Sun dogs, in case you have never seen them, are like a small section of vertical rainbow, straight out from each side of the sun, caused by ice crystals.

Another celestial event, a total eclipse of the moon, is coming on Feb. 20. Hopefully it will be a clear night, not like the one in fall when clouds obscured the earth’s shadow obscuring the moon. In other words, you had to take it on faith that there was an eclipse.

On a similar subject, the star, planet and moon watching was fantastic last night (Jan. 29) in the minus 38-degree windchilled and very clear air.
Finally, I would like to thank one of Powderhorn’s top peace and justice advocates for sending me another New York Times article about the search for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. The story is not really about the bird, which still has not definitively been found, but about the people’s hopes, in the very poor rural area of eastern Arkansas. Three years ago, the bird might have been there, and there was a flurry of economic activity when birders, journalists and others flocked (a bird word) to the area. Nothing has happened since then and there is still no proof of the bird’s existence in that area or the two other areas where it might be (in Florida and Louisiana). Renewed searches for the bird started eight years ago this month, for the largest of woodpeckers, which some people think has been extinct for 60 or 70 years.