Spring is EARLY!

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Written by Phil Thorpe
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Photo of Phil Thorpe.Well that was a crazy winter, or lack thereof. Spring has arrived early on the prairies. March was the warmest month on record for 25 states east of the Rockies. For an additional 15 states, the month ranked in the top 5 for warmest Marches. The winter as a whole across the US will go into the record books as the 4th warmest. Only the winters of 1991-1992, 1998-1999, and 1999-2000 were warmer.

Many species of ducks (and geese and cranes…) apparently took advantage of the mild winter and remained farther north. Midwinter survey estimates for mallards wintering in North Dakota were the highest in that state’s 64 year survey history. High midwinter survey estimates in Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska supported the fact that mallards wintered in large numbers on the breeding grounds. Given the warm weather and short migration distance, early nesting mallards and pintails started to think about breeding about 2-3 weeks earlier than normal. Even the blue-winged teal, migrating to the Canadian prairies from as far away as South America, got word of the warm weather and arrived about 2 weeks earlier than they normally do. How the heck did they find out in Venezuela that Saskatchewan was warm and the snow was gone?

As a result, the long-distance-migrating survey biologist also had to think about leaving home earlier than normal. For the southern Saskatchewan survey area, it will be the earliest start date in the survey’s 57-year history. Lots of records this year! Stay tuned for more details.