Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spring Morning: Red-winged Blackbirds

March 2015:  Chevy Pond, Douglas County

Don’t bother looking for ‘Chevy Pond’ on any map.  Chevy Pond is the name assigned to this dab of marsh by a local birder.  It lies across the road from a large, old log pond, Ford’s Pond.  

I start out chilled – car windows down.  Our car is parked at an uncomfortable slope on the edge of Chevy Pond.  Breakfast crumbs in my lap.  At least I have hot coffee in my mug.

 O.K.  Now for the magical part.  Sitting here is well worth a crooked back.  It is early morning.  This low marshy spot is a fog pocket.  Mist rises off dark water and swirls between last years tall cattail fronds and joins the fog hanging low over this valley.  The fog sucks the color from the cattails, the water, the green aquatic vegetation –everything.  Everything except the flashy red and yellow of a male red-winged blackbird’s epaulets. 

Dale and I have come five times in the past couple of weeks.  At first most of the males were still in flocks and those that sang out from the cattails had a simple song, “Danka Schoen.”  We haven’t heard that song today, only the more traditional, “Kleeeeee.” 

A guttural “Quoink” comes from within the cattails.  Ah ha!  Virginia rails are here too, but I doubt we’ll see one.  Out in the dab of open water I see four coot, a pair of mallards, and a pair of secretive pied-billed grebes slip from one sheltered spot to another. 

Magic time is when the sun rises high enough to rise above the pond’s far embankment and starts to burn off the morning fog.  Above me the fog thins and blue sky struggles to take over.  Color comes back to the ponds.  Cattails have a golden glow in the early light, spots of green show spring is coming, and the redwings become even blacker. 
“Kal leeee.”  A string of white breath floats out in the morning fog.  Black sporty male redwings sing out from cattails near and far.  Half a dozen are marking out their territories.  I don’t think many of the females have arrived, although one does fly in with a mouthful of soggy grasses.  She looks like a dark, overgrown sparrow, all streaky and brown.  She drops down into a tangle of cattails and soon I see one frond after another vibrating.  I wish I could actually see her as she pulls and tucks and weaves, making her nest.

A raven swoops in, probably hoping to rob a nest, but it is too early in the spring from him to find anything.  He is escorted out of the area by an irate redwing. 

I love sitting here for an hour or two, during the prime time of the morning.  Dale photographs and I sketch.  Eventually the sun wins.  Fog dissipates.  The redwing’s ardor dies down and food becomes their main interest.  Time for us to move on.


  1. Lovely paintings. I love seeing these birds at our feeders. That flash of color when they fly is so pretty. You captured them so well.

  2. Lovely!

    Our redwings sing "Jubilee!" I'll have to listen for those with German dialects...

  3. So flashy! Wonderful poses of activity and the cattails. They do love that habitat.

  4. Beautiful sketch! You've captured their brazen poses so well. Their calls bring many fun phrases to mind: Mama Mia! Love to see ya! Go to meet her! Late for dinner! Most convenient! Fill the freezer! You're the winner!

  5. Wonderfull, painting greeting from Mons in Belgium