With the weather patterns shifting to warmer temperatures, and birds able to find insects even in December, our total numbers were down this year. We documented 42 species with a notable lack of waterfowl in a freshwater spring which usually supports bufflehead, mallards, wood ducks, and blue-winged teal. No ducks this year, no cormorants basking in the warmth, and no kinglets flitting about from high to low branch. It wasn't the best birding week, but we kept with our protocol, our regular dates, our regular route, and were pleased to see that the Eastern bluebirds were still out on the south-facing slopes at 8am on a sunny morning. There is little in the world more beautiful than an Eastern bluebird couple in a post oak on a bluebird sky bright winter morning.
Maybe because I've run this winter bird survey route for 12 years, I predicted when we would see our hermit thrush. The only place I've seen the hermit thrush, Missouri's primary winter thrush besides the American Robin, is on a crummy cedar-filled trail through a bottomland woodland. The characteristic tail-bobbing of the hermit thrush was easier to spot than the breast and coloration. For 12 years running, we've seen the hermit thrush in the same area. Surely it's not the same bird, but there must be something in this landscape, this little patch of crummy cedars surrounded by fire-mediated awesome post oak-white oak-black oak woodlands that attracts hermit thrush. Check! We got it. We never found our kinglets, neither of them, actually, but picked up a suite of sparrows at a crummy fencerow with cedars and brush. A big part of me hates that some of the best birding is in crummy anthropogenic landscapes, but I also appreciate that even in our most damaged landscapes birds can still exist and thrive, at least during winter months.