December 13. That is my anniversary date for moving to Michigan. December 15 is the day I started at work. This year on the 15th, my second anniversary, I was up before the crack of dawn to take part in my third Christmas Bird Count since moving out here (my first one was two days after starting at work).
It wasn't quite O-dark-thirty when I was to report for the Count, but the sun had yet to cross the horizon when we showed up next to the crane fields at nearly 8 AM.
Over there, beyond the horizon, we could hear the early morning chorus as the cranes started to awake, stretch, make sure everyone made it through the night, and then head out to the fields to feed.
The morning take-off is just as impressive as the evening arrival at the roosting grounds.
The only difference is that soon the fields were full of cranes - a handful here, several dozen there. As the day progressed and we drove the roads in search of birds to count, we got to see many cranes right up close.
But cranes were not our only target. We had an area of several miles through and around the Waterloo Recreation Area to cover. But it was a chilly grey day, with rain never too far away.
I think the birds must've felt the same way, for they were pretty Spartan - few and far between. When we donned our gay apparel (hunter orange) to walk the Hoffman Trail, we expected to see/hear at least two or three red-headed woodpeckers. Not only did we not see or hear a one of them, but we didn't see or hear ANY birds at all!
Oh, we saw evidence of birds...
...and mushrooms galore...
...but no birds until we reached the edge of the woods, where a few goldfinches called in the distance out by the marshy area.
Cause? We suspect the lack of water this year. See this foot bridge? There's usually water underneath. I've even see it with water above! Not this year.
We scanned the fields.
The guys continued through the field to the road while Nancy and I went back to bring the car around.
Along the way I had a new Michigan discovery: deer carrots.
I think I've mentioned before how in the fall the roadsides bloom with signs for "Deer Carrots" and "Deer Apples Sold Here." It's now the end of hunting season, and here's where those deer treats end up.
After lunch (homemade turkey soup and quiche Lorraine - mmmmm), we headed back out, but the birds remained elusive. Oh, we had a few bluebirds, lots of mourning doves, and Greg even spotted about 45 or so horned larks, but for the most part, the numbers were disappointing. Not a single robin or cedar waxwing. And where were all those winter finches we'd been hearing about!? I had my heart set on seeing some evening grosbeaks, but it was not to be.
Still, it was a good day in good company - and as long as I had a blanket for my legs, I was happy. I can think of much worse ways to spend an anniversary.