Friday, December 25, 2009
Cold and Rusty
Here is what a graph of the temperature here (in red) looks like for the last 3 days (temps are in degrees Fahrenheit).
It's been cold. Thankfully we did our Christmas Bird Count during one of the warmer days on Monday. Seven of us tallied 43 species this year, which is respectable for our count considering how few people we had to cover the area and how cold it has been. I had a great day walking along the edge of the river. We didn't find any species that were very unexpected except the Iceland Gull that has been hanging around this winter so far.
I did find a male Rusty Blackbird, one of three or four that have been residing along a spring creek below the dam where there is a bit of open water, and a melanistic American Robin that showed up in Mom and Dad's backyard the following day.
Yesterday I got out in while it was sunny with my camera and managed to endure the cold temps for a bit. I caught up with the blackbirds again and managed to get a few photos as they foraged along the little bit of remaining open water on the creek.
Although they look much like a Brewer's Blackbird during the breeding season (glossy black with a pale eye), in the winter they acquire their striking namesake rust and black plumage.
Rusty Blackbirds are one of the rarest of the North American blackbirds and also one of the least known. Seventy percent of the Rusty Blackbird population breeds in the boreal forests of Canada and population trends suggest that populations of this species are declining. The Boreal Songbird Initiative web site has more information about this species and other boreal birds, many of them my favorite Montana migrants that breed in the increasingly impacted forests just north of here.
They are associated with boggy or swampy areas in their boreal breeding grounds and I have always found them associated with water in the winter or during migration.
They apparently build rather large, bulky nests which they do not reuse. The abandoned nests are often used by Solitary Sandpipers in subsequent years.