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Birds of the Western Slope Feb. 15, 2017

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Photo by Bill Schmoker© Red-winged blackbird


Blue sky! It's hard to believe, but it is blue sky! I revel in the warmth of the sun coming through the car windows! And the presence of all the ice on the reservoir doesn't even dampen my joy! And the skyscape . . . real clouds and jet trails morphing into clouds. I know it won't last, so I rejoice while I have the chance!

I gaze at the condition of the cattails . . . maybe I should write another column about them. The sides facing the sun look to be all faded and white, but the back sides (those toward my view) are mostly brown. The pattern created is fascinating, a mottled combination of light and shadow. I'll keep this in mind.

I drive slowly along the causeway, delighting in sunlight. And ahead of me there is a small flock of birds flying toward a roadside shrub. They all look dark. And they all seem to have tails (so likely not starlings). I go slower and slower because if I stop the birds would probably spook. They seem to be oblivious of me.

I've known these red-winged blackbirds all of my life. They were common to me as a child, and they were present during my college days. But I never wondered where they went in the winter. I got interested in birds when we moved to Las Vegas, Nevada and there they were along Lake Mead. Seeing them was a moment of joy to me! Now I've seen them in New Mexico, Arizona, Wisconsin, Utah, Nebraska, California and Colorado. And when the range map shows the entire continent, it has more meaning now. And all of those places were actually in pursuit of cranes!

The red-winged blackbird is included in one of my books, so I've learned a bit about them. The female has drab plumage. In fact she looks much like a sparrow, appearing to be a little brown streaked bird with just a hint of red on the wing. A male red-wing may fly to a female, sit beside her and then make a low-crawl through the vegetation. He may even appear to build a nest. The polygynous males may have a harem of two to nine.

When they return, they often gather in our cottonwood trees at home - for me to delight in their songs. Welcome back, red-wings!

Read more from:
Surface Creek
Birds of the Western Slope, Evelyn Horn
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