Raptors in the Cold Sunshine

Clear skies and cold air enticed me down to the wooded hills and open farmlands south and east of Columbia this morning.  Besides, a steady north breeze held the promise of migrant snow geese that, like most avian travelers, take advantage of tail winds on their seasonal journeys.  Alas, no snows were spotted in the deep blue sky but thousands of starlings offered some consolation, their spectacular aerial ballets rising like smoke signals in the cold morning sunshine.

But this day belonged to the raptors.  A pair of bald eagles soared above the icy Missouri River while a second pair rested in trees near a rural park, surveying flocks of hooded mergansers and common goldeneyes that had gathered on its lake.  As usual, red-tailed hawks were abundant along the country roads, joined by several red-shouldered hawks and a large number of American kestrels.  Finally, a sharp-shinned hawk streaked across a barnyard, hoping to nab one of the sparrows that fed among the haystacks.

Other sightings included Canada geese, pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers, northern mockingbirds and a flock of cedar waxwings, among more common winter songbirds.  Invigorated by the cold air and bright sunshine, all species were especially active and conspicuous; once the lakes freeze up north, migrant snows and white-fronts will hopefully join the pre-winter frenzy (and make my day in the process!).