Birders paradise now

Stevens Point— The 2018 spring season will be here today and gone tomorrow with the way the weather is going.  In looking at my phenology journal writings that I keep track of we are certainly not at a ‘normal’ spring.  It will be summer before we know it and we will be swatting skeeters.

The last couple of weeks were rough and no one needed to be hibernating inside for that time and the animals outdoors did not need it either.  At my house we made sure the birds were fed by placing an unusual amount of bird feed including fruit and worms that were gobbled up in no time.  In addition we had a few whitetail friends that enjoyed the leftovers from the birds.

There was quite a bit in the news about songbirds succumbing to the winter weather.  Surprising to most this was not really the case.  Birds hunkered down, spent less energy, puffed out their feathers to conserve heat and relied on alternative sources of food.  What this will result in is that the early bird will not get the worm.  The early arriving birds are probably a little bit worse off for wear and will have to battle for dominance in both territory and breeding rights.  There were plenty of birds that turned back south and held there on the edge of the storm in northern Illinois.

Couple that with birds that were still migrating and had to put the brakes on causing a bottleneck of migrants.  It is a bird lovers dream this past week and weekend in most of Wisconsin as the traffic jam turned to green light for the feathered friends.

As the boys and I sat out in the turkey woods the amount of songbirds we heard before daybreak flying north was phenomenal.  On top of that we saw flocks and flocks of migrants throughout the day to keep our interest piqued.

Speaking of turkey hunting, I brought out the snow camo for my opening weekend tag.  I borrowed a white sheet from my sister-in-laws family and used it to maneuver around in the woods.  Walking out to my spot in the crusty hard snow before daybreak was no quiet task.

We had birds gobbling all around us and it was pretty cold.  Cold enough to lock down the battery life on our video cameras.  They stayed on roost a little longer than normal and when they finally decided to flutter down they were only interested in feeding.  We saw very little breeding behavior.

As the morning waned on the birds seemed to really enjoy the crusty snow and moved into the protection of the swamps.  I knew that would not hold as the real food was in the farm fields.  I had to wait for the snow to start to melt and soften.

I believe the birds did not like that as was evident by the filing of them to the fields just before noon.  They struggled to walk in the snow, sinking in every three steps or so.  Once they made it to the field they found snowless patches to scratch on.

As luck would have it I was set up lower than the field and after a few minutes of not seeing any birds I crawled over 100 yards to the edge of the field and peered over.

There they were, 8 hens and 5 toms.  No strutting was to be had and no gobbling.  They were about 100 yards out into the field and I was able to lay in the prone position and get ready for a set up.

Once I was set I slowly began to soft cluck, purr and give out some quiet feeding yelps.  I hardly let out a sound which would be hard to do for most but I was using a Jeff Fredrick Champion’s Choice mouth call.  He hand tunes each call and the difference is like riding a sports car compared to a fleet van.

The birds noticed the difference as well as the hens responded first and slowly worked their way to the edge of the field.  With the toms in tow, simply for the principal of things, (they were not displaying at all) I soon had 5 long beards in range.  I had plenty of time and picked out the bird that appeared to be the biggest and had the thickest beard.   He took his grand old time hanging with his brothers, I had 4 red heads lined up at once several times.

Finally they separated.  The bird I chose was in the feeding position with his neck bent.  Proper etiquette knows that with a gun we should provide ourselves with the best target so I yelped to get the birds to extend their necks.  With a pull of the trigger I had the old long beard flopping on the ground at 18 yards.

The walk back to the truck was a tough one through the deep snow but well worth it.  The boys have the second season so I hope our luck continues.

Until next time, shoot straight.

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