Winter Sunrise at Eagle Bluffs

Today dawned clear and cold as I entered Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area on the Missouri River floodplain.  Despite the morning chill, recent mild weather had opened many of the refuge ponds and channels and the river itself was free of ice floes.

Canada geese and mallards accounted for most of the waterfowl, joined by small numbers of gadwalls and northern shovelers.  The hunched figures of great blue herons were widespread, standing in fields, in the shallows or directly on the ice itself to catch the warming rays of the sun.  Belted kingfishers hovered above the open waters, red-tailed hawks perched in the barren cottonwoods and clouds of red-winged blackbirds moved among the crop stubble.  A few white-tailed deer browsed near the edge of woodlands and a mix of winter sparrows (mostly song, tree and white-throated species) foraged in the thickets.  To my surprise, no bald eagles or northern harriers were encountered this morning.

Now beginning what is, on average, the coldest week of the year, we are also taking notice of the lengthening daylight; indeed, by mid week, we will be a month past the winter solstice and exiting the darkest two month period in the Northern Hemisphere.  While the January thaw at Eagle Bluffs may be temporary, we are clearly on the downhill side of winter, heading for spring.  Within a few weeks, migrating snow geese will grace the preserve, the vanguard of spring in the American Heartland.