Arriving at the Nicholl's Arboretum there were two things on my mind: 1) I wonder if that sensation is the growth of ice crystals in the tip of my nose? 2) I wish I'd remembered to research what Black Alder looks like. I couldn't have told you what an alder tree looks like but I had seen alder growing by the riverside plenty of times as a kid, so I was hopeful I'd know it once I saw it. I was quickly distracted from the biting cold as within ten steps from the car I could see the river was packed with interesting birds. In fact, the very first bird I set my eyes on was a Trumpeter Swan, on average the largest flying bird in North America, and a truly incredible bird to see.
Even the female will have a go, although I have to be honest, while she has all the right curves in all the right places, I'm not sure she's making quite the same impression.
Other highlights from the river included a pair of gorgeous Redheads.
Close up, it is even possible to appreciate the beauty in the relatively drab female Mallard. Beauty here, as in so many things, is in the details, you just have to stop and look.
|Daring leap between twigs by an American Goldfinch|
I was entertained for a while after stumbling into a veritable nagging* of American Robin (*I'm not sure of the correct collective noun for the American Robin, but nagging feels right to me). These birds are everywhere during the summer, but during the winter they are scarce enough in Lansing that it is a delight to be reacquainted with them.
|American Robin - Vent|
The birds I was looking at had very pronounced streaking on the breast, flanks and back. They definitely weren't American Goldfinch. I hadn't expected to have any difficultly separating Pine Siskin from Common Redpoll, but from a distance, high up in a tree, viewed from innumerable branches, it was hard! Occasionally, through a gap in the branches I would get a clear view of a bird for a few brief seconds.
Conveniently, my appalling photography allows you to get a very real sense of my experience that day. Heavy streaking, predominantly brown, with a thin, pointed beak. These birds are surely Pine Siskin.
|Pine Siskin ... or is it?|
|Common Redpoll ... or is it?|
This guy in the upper left corner has clear (if blurry) red on the forehead. Pine Siskins feed in the center.
The red blush across the breast of a male Common Redpoll can be seen on the same bird in this picture.
Even clearer here, with the black feathers around the base of the bill now showing
These birds were feeding at least 40-50ft up in this Alder tree, and by the time I had identified the two species to my satisfaction my neck was complaining of a early case of "warbler-neck", scourge of birders, especially during spring migration. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and good looks at the birds trumped a warm bum.
Over time I was able to get some fairly decent views of both the Redpoll and the Pine Siskin, although I'm afraid the quality of the photographs didn't improve all that much.
|Red-tailed Hawk - Money shot|
If anything, they are even more beautiful in flight.
|Black morph Grey Squirrel|