Friday, April 1, 2011

Changing for Spring!

Male American Goldfinch beginning its spring molt
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison

We've really been enjoying the Goldfinches in the yard this winter.  We get around 40-50 birds every year that stay in the pastures around us and visit our feeders! 

Now that spring has arrived, we're getting more and more types of birds from their winter homes, now headed north, but the Goldfinches stay around all year long here.

One thing that is fun watching for is the Goldfinch molt.  We get to watch all the males really change into their spring/summer/fall finery, and it's taking place right now!  The image above is of the same male Goldfinch, just starting to put on the brilliant yellow feathers...little patches here and there.  None of our neighborhood birds has made the complete transition yet...I suspect that will take another week or more (?), but there is one male I noticed that has really made some progress with it's molt (see image below).

This male American Goldfinch is much further along in its change of color!
photograph © Bruce A. Morrison

This female American Goldfinch is not going to be the brilliant "stand-out" that it's male counterpart will be.
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

The ladies molt too, of course, but their plumage is much duller in color...kind of an olive hint when they've changed; nothing near the yellow gold of the males.  But "brilliant" or not, the Goldfinches are great having around the prairie pasture and yard all year long!  

As I was walking from the studio to the house this noon, an accipiter flew through the yard, scooping up a Junco for lunch!  It gets pretty exciting at times...high drama in the tallgrass.  I wasn't able to make an ID but judging from size it was either a male Cooper's or a female Sharp-shinned Hawk.  I only had a couple seconds view and it was moving "away" from me as I spotted it.

Aside fom bird activity, other things are undergoing changes for spring now; I'm looking for signs in the prairie here.  We're a bit far north for the Pasques to be in bloom yet but they may take us by surprise one of these days soon.  I have been hearing forb reports from the more southern parts of the state and they definitely are ahead of us!

We are eyeing the pastures here for spring burning also.  We have alternated section burns in the past few springs but may do more this year "if" we find the neighboring pastures being left alone...going to take some communicating before we get started.  

As I've mentioned in past years, it's important to leave some spaces untouched for invertebrate survival each year.  We have been fortunate in past years...the pastures bordering ours have never been burned since we moved here 9 years ago.  

Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia) - female
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

If your site has a good number of invertebrates, you'll have more birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, etc....  In other words - more biodiversity.  Last year we had an amazing number of Black and Yellow Argiope and Banded Argiope spiders in the late summer pasture.  Our dragonflies, robber flies, butterflies, katydids, beetles, bees, wasps, etc, etc. - were amazing!

I know spring has finally the games begin for another year!

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