January 13, 2019
It’s been a week since I’ve been able to go out and take pictures. A week! I think that’s been my longest stretch of ‘picture free’ days that I can remember– so I was getting very antsy. The primary reason for my picture hiatus was the weather. We’ve had rain, we’ve had snow, and we’ve had both at the same time. Not good, not good at all. Today, though, the weather forecast called for sunny, sunny skies —but below freezing temperatures. I could live with freezing. So I bundled myself up and headed out the door to one of the few nearby places that I would be guaranteed to see lots of birds—the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary!
Whenever I go to the bird sanctuary, I typically spend at least an hour near the Visitor’s Center trying to capture some of the local songbirds before I even go into to the sanctuary proper. Many of the birds here, like the chickadees, goldfinches and cardinals are drawn into to the area because of the numerous bird feeders that are maintained by sanctuary staff. Other small birds, like the pine siskins, flock to the nearby pine trees to gorge themselves on the seeds hidden in the pine cones or to the seeds hidden in the catkins dangling from surrounding deciduous trees ( “A catkin is a slim, cylindrical flower cluster”). In spite of the near empty bird feeders, there were more than enough birds to keep me busy for well over an hour.
Because I had arrived at the sanctuary early in the morning, it was still well below freezing and my fingers kept turning into little icicles as I tried to take pictures—even though I had on a decent pair of gloves. Every twenty minutes or so, I scurried back to my car to re-heat! After I had taken every conceivable picture I thought I could possibly take on the outside of the sanctuary, I headed through the gates to the see the ‘big birds’. With my camera tucked up under my left arm and both hands shoved deep into my pockets, I was hoping I wouldn’t have to run back to the car anytime soon. Three hours and hundreds of pictures later, I still had all of my fingers!
My happiest find for the day was the bluebirds. I’m still amazed when I see them in the wintertime because, prior to taking ‘picture walks’, I had assumed that bluebirds all went south for the winter. It’s just such a delight to see them this time of year!
My biggest surprise for the day was ‘capturing’ a yellow bellied sapsucker! Not only have I never seen one before, I found out later that they shouldn’t even be here at this time of year! “Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers depart their breeding range in September and early October for wintering grounds in the southern U.S., Mexico, West Indies, and Central America. They arrive back north in May.” I guess this little sapsucker forgot to mark her calendar when it was time to leave!
I also saw the sanctuary ‘regulars’— Canadian Geese, mallards and trumpeter swans; plus the regular non-native residents– one mandarin duck, one black swan, and one red breasted goose.
While I was taking pictures of the ‘regulars’ I spotted a swan that was not like the others. At first, I mistook it for a trumpeter swan, until I zoomed in and saw that the beak was not entirely black. There was a big patch of yellow on it. Hmm. I’d never seen that before! My research first led me to the conclusion that it was a tundra swan, after which I was informed that it was a Whooper Swan. A few days later, someone else pointed out the definitive answer based on information I had missed finding on the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary’s website! It’s a Trooper Swan!!
“Trooper swans are a Whooper x Trumpeter swan hybrid. Whooper swans are a European breed of swan with a large yellow triangular patch on their black bill. They have a wing span of approximately 6.7 – 7.7 feet and are closely related to the Trumpeter swan.”
Apparently, the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary has two of these Troopers. For more detailed information on Troopers Swans, check on this page on the sanctuary’s website: https://birdsanctuary.kbs.msu.edu/2018/08/02/trumpeting-troopers/
In spite of the frigid temperatures, it was a beautiful, beautiful day to be outside–and just what I needed to regain my equilibrium after a week of bad weather and zero picture walks!