Sliding for the birds

Boxing day was spent – as it should be – in front of a log fire with plenty of alcohol and some good books but today was the day of the annual Christmas Bird Count centred on Hudson, just to the west of us … and it was (still is) the foulest day imaginable to go out birding.  If it wasn’t for this important bit of citizen science we would not have stuck our noses out of the door but duty called and off we went – right now we are back home calming our shattered nerves.

Before Xmas we had lots and lots of lovely fluffy powdery snow and cold temperatures and so were looking forward to spending the holiday cross-country skiing or snowshoeing – but then we got waves after wave of cold-warm-rain-snow-warm etc and then last night and this morning freezing rain.  The back country roads that are part of our allocated CBC route were a skating rink with ditches on either side – I drove very, very carefully at about 5kph while J scanned for birds … when she spotted any (or when I did) I would try to stop the car with anti-lock brakes juddering away and white knuckles on the steering wheel.  Sometimes we stopped in time and sometimes we gracefully slid past the bird while J did a quick ID as it disappeared slowly behind us.  Talk about nerve racking!

Anyway – for all that, we saw two flocks of Snow Buntings and four American Tree Sparrows as well as reasonable numbers of the birds we expected,so the day was worth the effort. Of course, because of the weather, most birds were hunkered down keeping warm and so it was hard work getting any to count for the census at all – fortunately, we know our route pretty well now and could anticipate the best spots to check out. The ATSPs were hiding from the weather in this line of trees which gives some idea of the wonderful weather we are enjoying :

Once Monday comes it seems things will brighten and the sun will reappear – got to be better than today.  Usually the CBC is very cold and snowy – would that it were today, frostbite is better than terror any day.

*** For readers not familiar with freezing rain (ie: you don’t live around here), Wikipedia describes it as follows – it is truly awful stuff:

Usually freezing rain is associated with the approach of a warm front when cold air, at or below freezing temperature, is trapped in the lower levels of the atmosphere as warmth streams in aloft. This happens, for instance, when a low pressure system moves from the Mississippi River Valley toward the Appalachian Mountains and the Saint Lawrence River Valley of North America, in the cold season, and there is a strong high pressure system sitting further East. The warm air from the Gulf of Mexico is often the fuel for freezing precipitation.  Freezing rain develops as falling snow encounters a layer of warm air usually around 800 mbar (800 hPa) level, then the snow completely melts and becomes rain. As the rain continues to fall, it passes through a thin layer of cold air just above the surface and cools to a temperature below freezing (0 °C). However, the drops themselves do not freeze, a phenomenon called supercooling (or forming “supercooled drops“). When the supercooled drops strike ground below 0 °C or anything else below 0 °C (power lines, tree branches, air craft), they instantly freeze, forming a thin film of ice, hence freezing rain. The ice can accumulate to a thickness of several centimetres, called glaze ice. Freezing rain is notorious for causing travel problems on roadways, breaking tree limbs, and downing power lines. It is also known for being extremely dangerous to aircraft since the ice can effectually ‘remold’ the shape of the airfoil.

In a few days, once we get some sensible snow on the ground again, we shall go back in a calmer frame of mind and seek out the eight Snowy owls that are reported in the area … maybe some Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs too, if we are lucky and the birding gods are smiling.

Advertisements