Spiderweb Skies

Finally, after many long months of winter, we are welcoming spiderweb skies. Next to the Sandhill Crane migration in central Nebraska, finding the migrating Snow Geese heading into the prairie wetlands is most compelling. Thanks to the scattered and perhaps uncoordinated skeins of the Arctic-bound black wing-tipped white and blue geese, they seem to spread across the skies as elongated and exaggerated spiderwebs. What a lovely sight!  

Unlike the Sandhill Crane migrations that annually congregates in a 60 mile stretch of the Platte River, Snow Geese seem prone to finding secluded and thawed wetlands or sloughs … which in a few weeks will be long out of sight and gone thanks to underground tiling until they might be seen once again at the end of another winter … to catch a break near over-wintered stalk fields to feed up for their next jump up the globe. In early March of 2021 they chose the wetland just over the rise from my prairie where they stayed for nearly a week before moving on. They rarely seem to choose the same wetland year after year. 

On a recent early morning walk we encountered a huge flock just down the road from Listening Stones Farm scattered across a quarter section of my neighbor’s conservation-tilled grain field. As we walked down the road with leashed Joe Pye, they almost in unison, over perhaps a quarter mile of field, rose at once and took to the sky. Whites mixed in with what is termed their “blue” phase, circled the abandoned grove at the end of the road to fly off to the east. As we continued our walk another group on the far western edge of the field rose before making a slight circle before re-landing. About the same time about a mile to the east another large grouping of the geese appeared just above the distant treetops. Were those the ones we had scared? Who knows. The morning air was full of their unique sound giving us a sense of “surround sound.” One of those magic moments of nature.

One off my joys of spring is the spiderweb skies created by migrating Snow Geese.

Two days before, after talking with outdoor writer Tom Watson, he alerted us to large flock just outside of nearby Appleton. Grabbing the camera and lenses, we left for Appleton only to find a large flock just a few miles southeast of our farm. We never made it to Appleton. We considered ourselves fortunate for it’s the time of year where we often spend hours driving through the prairie watching the skies in search of the flocks. A day or two later we did so again with no success although we saw distant flocks flying or hovering over land in the huge loop we drove. We were very lucky to find the earlier flock just southeast of the farm? 

It is always more fun when they choose our local wetland, which is deep enough and still untiled so it has water standing in it year-round. On March 11, 2021, a large flock landed and adopted the wetland. That was a special event, and one I’ve hoped for each spring since — a hope that remains ever stronger as winter and snows continue deeper into the year.

I can’t seem to get enough of this mysterious beauty of spring.This was from a few days ago when the flocks seemed intent on heading toward the tundra.

When in Nebraska about a month ago there were reports circling around the birders of a huge Snow Geese flock centered on a lake outside of Alda, just north of Crane Trust headquarters. They were in the fields feeding when I ventured up. At the time large flocks were apparently in a standby mode as far south as northern Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska according to reports on internet birding sites. How did they know we were still snow and ice bound here in the Minnesota prairie? An entire month later than when that flock chose us in 2021? Such a mystery. Then this year, just as we began to thaw, our skies began to fill with those spiderweb-like skeins. Once again hopes rose that they would once again find our nearest wetland, and once again they passed us by.

On the year they chose our nearby wetland I was up long before dawn and was busy off and on throughout the day as the birds took off for distant fields, moving from day break to sunset. For most of a week the haphazard skeins rose, returned, and rose again throughout the waking hours when suddenly the silence turned heavy one midmorning and didn’t return. It was a photographic dream.

A flock in a field near us after a call from nature writer Tom Watson.

Those loose spiderweb skeins stretched across the prairie skies like they are right now on our early morning walks and as we scanned the skies near dusk this week. Some days in the past several of the skeins could be seen at once, stretching across the entire sky. They weren’t as dramatic this season. 

Yesterday morning as we neared the return to our driveway, skein after skein seemed to pass over high above us, stretching out in long lines as well as having that classic seemingly disorganization of dozens in various positions outside of, above or behind the main grouping. Unlike earlier in the week when such a skein would appear to be heading one direction until suddenly a group would veer off in a different direction, only to be followed by the rest of the flock. Not on this morning. Yesterday, though skein after skein seemed intent on heading northward perhaps drawn by an inner clock. “Tomorrow morning,” I suggested, “we’ll hear the heavy sound of silence.”

Exactly a month earlier, in 2021, a flock of Snow Geese chose a wetland just over the rise from our prairie to hole in for about a week. Such a joy, encouraging my leaving the windows open at night to hear their sound.

My guess is that their internal clock was suggesting that this spring has been rather shortened by a winter that wouldn’t end, and that it was time to get to their breeding and nesting areas in the tundra. Much like the message that seemed to have the birds “hole up” in the lower Midwest for weeks on end, we were experiencing yet another blizzard.

This has been a gracious week of extremely uncharacteristic warm weather, mostly in the 70s and 80s, and the large drift across our walkway and patio that was above our heads has melted to a little more than knee-height, all in a few days. We pulled out lawn chairs to take in the sun-drenched afternoons, and as we did we could hear and see the skeins overhead. In the grove various murmurations started by the migration of Redwing Blackbirds flitted about. Huge numbers of birds swung from the very tall cottonwoods on the northern edge of our woodland to the what we call our “south prairie.” They, like the Snow Geese, seemed to have moved along. Yesterday the Redwings were replaced by the larger Starlings, and their numbers made the Redwing murmurations seem small. All part of the skies of spring!

And off they go … until next spring!

And, yes, our walk this morning was deafly quiet. In the distance there were perhaps two smaller skeins of Snow Geese in the distant skies. Those lovely and mysteriously shaped spiderweb skies would be no more, at least until next spring. Much like the Sandhill Crane migrations, this is both a compelling and awesome adventure of spring … an avian welcoming for a new and warmer season.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by John G. White. Bookmark the permalink.

About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s