We had planned to go birding this morning anyway, but waking up at 4:30 am was not part of the original idea. We are both finding that this sort of early morning wakefulness is happening more and more frequently. Is it age or stress? But now that spring is here, waking up so early does have its advantages when it happens on a day that you aren't due in to work; it gives you an excellent jump on the morning's birding. So we gathered up our spotting scope and binocs and other accoutrements of birding and headed out to a nearby wildlife refuge.
On the way, we passed through a town that had a bank with one of those helpful temperature reader boards and it said 29F. Er, I think we'll have breakfast first and let the sun get a little higher in the sky over a hot cup of coffee...
Once we had had more than our legal limit of biscuits and gravy, we managed to waddle back out to the car and continue on to the refuge. Even before we reached the refuge boundary, we were seeing good things, like this snipe hanging out on a convenient fence.
I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow account of our birding trip, but it was one of the best birding days we've had in a long time; not for sheer numbers of different species, but by the quality of the spotting. We discovered a great blue heron rookery after tracking a group of 5 great blue herons all wheeling over a patch of trees. We spied some greater yellowlegs that were stopped off at one of the ponds to rest and refuel during their migration north. The ponds also had a profusion of cinnamon teal - always a treat - with pintail, bufflehead and shoveler thrown in for good measure.
And the tree swallows were back in force. Check out this part of a walking path, just covered in tree swallows. We'd never seen anything like it:There were just a few bird boxes scattered in the area and each one was being guarded by a pair of tree swallows. All the other swallows were circling these boxes, making lots of noise. It appeared that they were all trying to drive the swallow pairs away. I'd say this was a swallow housing crisis! I managed to snap this shot of an aerial bombardment in progress. If you look closely, you'll see that both of their beaks are open as they squawk at each other in frustration (oops, am I anthropomorphising?)
Some osprey had taken up residence on a nesting platform nearby, but there didn't seem to be any disputes going on between them.
Later in the day I snapped this picture looking up a hillside of arrow-leaved balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) in bloom. There are rain and snow showers in the forecast again, so I figured this might be the only good chance I'd get for some reference shots of the blooms. As I was taking these photos, I could hear two spotted towhees calling nearby. Ah, what a day!