March 15, 2017IMLAY TWP. — We're less than a week away from the official first day of spring, but looking at the freshly fallen snow outside our windows it appears winter's not quite ready to release its grip.
The wildlife in Glenda Cantrell's backyard certainly seem to think the seasons are ready for a change.
Within the last week, a Sandhill Crane appeared outside her Chic Drive home and a pair of House Sparrows have staked their claim to one of her birdhouses.
"I've lived in Imlay Township for 17 years and have never had a visitor like this," Glenda said, referring to the crane.
According to Sevens Ponds Nature Center Director Daryl Bernard, these big birds choose to head south for the winter, although they don't go too far away.
"A lot of these birds overwinter in southern Indiana but a few may choose to stay depending on the severity of the weather," he said.
The population of Sandhill cranes is on the rise, he notes, so that while seeing one of these birds this early in the season might have been odd in the past, their growing numbers mean more are visible.
Those migrants who don't go too far south are more readily influenced by short-term warmups, Bernard said.
"When we get a nice warm spell, they'll start to move north again to stake out their breeding territories," he said.
Another bird in this category is the Red-winged Blackbird.
"Those long distance migrants, like warblers, who go as far as Central and South America, are completely oblivious to changes in the weather. We won't be seeing them earlier in the season," Bernard noted.
As for the sparrow pair, Glenda said they've been guarding the nest box for about three weeks.
"The tree and birdhouse are a memorial for my grandson Bryan," she said.
"I don't want to disturb them, so I resist peeking in."
House Sparrows are year-round residents of Michigan.
Bernard said some birds use nest boxes as a means for shelter and sleep but others may be getting a jump start on their nest preparations too. As winter melds into spring, many birds pair up and begin bonding rituals in preparation for raising their young.
Bernard said this is an important time for bald eagles who overwinter separately but reunite at their nest site in the spring. Some cleverly refer to this as a 'nestoration.'
"They work together to prepare and improve the nest and this serves to renew their bond," Bernard said.
Although many casual bird watchers anxiously await their first American Robin sighting, Bernard notes that many spend the winter here.
They aren't as noticeable during the winter months because their habits change, Bernard said.
"In the winter, robins flock together and change their diets, feeding on fruit and berries. They become nomadic, moving from one area to another in search of that food."
This time of year robins begin pairing up, which probably makes them more noticeable.
Bernard said it's possible migrating waterfowl will be returning to the area soon too. Bernard's predecessor, Mike Champagne, told him that recent mild spells resulted in the earliest open water on Seven Pond's waterways that Champagne could remember in his 25-year tenure at the Dryden Twp. facility.
He notes that the current cold snap has resulted in a new ice layer but weather forecasts point to above freezing temperatures by the weekend.
Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she and her family reside in the Capac area where she enjoys gardening and reading.