We didn’t see many birds along the roads or in the fields we passed either, one kestrel perched on a power line, two mourning doves and one flock of starlings. Three crows flew across the sky and a few robins flew across the road before us where we drove through a woods.
It was a pleasant drive. It was good to get out of the house. But we were looking for birds. We thought we would see birds. And we did but only a few. Where were the late migrants that we usually see this time of year? Where were the feathered visitors from farther north that we usually begin to see this time of year? We would have welcomed a flock of those open field birds, horned larks and Lapland longspurs. I’ve seen redpolls and pine siskins flitting about among the stalks of weeds along a county road in November, feeding on the seeds. But not in recent years.
I intended to come home and write about late bird migrants and early winter arrivals. But the only late migrants we saw were those few robins, and we saw no early winter arrivals. Instead of birds to write about, I came home with a question, two questions. Why didn’t we see any late migrant ducks and shorebirds? And why didn’t we see any early winter birds?
The obvious answers to those questions are contradictory. No late migrants could mean an early start to winter, to snow and ice. We’ve had a freezing temperature at night, frost on trees and fields and lawns in the morning but the frost has been gone soon after sunrise and there has been no ice on lakes and ponds. No early winter birds could mean just the opposite, a late start to winter, perhaps even a mild winter.
That raises another question. Can birds really detect, anticipate and react to a coming change in weather? Does the scarcity of birds indicate a snow storm, more than just the few flurries we’ve seen coming soon? Or does the fact that we didn’t find any winter birds mean we may not have a white Christmas? Further, why have birds been caught in both early fall snow storms and in late spring snow storms?
Here’s yet another question. Instead of going for a drive in the country, if we had gone for a walk in a woods would we have found different bird indicators? Would we have found crossbills or evening grosbeaks for example, northern species that I haven’t seen in Indiana in several years?
I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. But I do know that if we’d stayed home and watched birds coming to our bird feeders we’d have seen more, both species and individuals, than we did on our recent afternoon Sunday drive.