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My wife and I had to travel to Columbia on Monday so we stopped by Bradford Farm to see the Northern Shrike (a lifer for me). That afternoon, we went to see the Red-winged Blackbird roost up near Centralia.

Wow! What a spectacular event!  We arrived about 4:30 pm and small groups of RWBL were already arriving in the tree tops. It started snowing heavily for about 10 minutes before becoming intermittent.  Between 4:45 and 5:00, the groups of RWBL were growing noticeably larger. Starlings and some Brown-headed Cowbirds were also obvious.  Large groups of RWBL began to cluster in the tree tops along the north side of the Miscanthus field until nearly all of the tree tops were ornamented with hundreds of thousands of black birds. The grey sky ended in a solid black band that spanned the north horizon. The tree branches were obscured by birds. 

By 5:15, the birds were moving from the tree tops down to the field. The birds gathered on the ground at first in two small pools separated by a couple hundred feet or so.  The pools of black continued to grow outward until they merged into one, then continued to expand across most of the field, forming an impressionistic, tremulous tapestry of black birds and brown grass. By 5:30, all of the birds appeared to be down in the field. The sound never stopped.

Five Trumpeter Swan flew by shortly before 5 pm to land in the large pond on the east side of the field.  After 5:30 a couple more groups totalling about 34 birds also flew in towards the pond. 

If you haven't been to see the roost, I high recommend it. If you can't make it, you can listen to the audio I posted to this checklist.

The first RWBL recording was before the main event. The next three RWBL recordings capture about 20 minutes between 5:02 and 5:32 from arrival to settlement in the fields. The gaps allowed me to rest my arm and absorb the sheer spectacle. The audio alone doesn't give you the full sense of the event. After all, you could drag your old black-and-white TV down from the attic, tune it to an empty UHF channel, and get close to the same sound captured in these recordings. 

This video, from Cornell's All About Birds, helps give a sense of the event.

For the diehard RWBL fan, this checklist has one more RWBL recording made after all the birds were on the ground but with a different recording setup (I was experimenting). I also captured some of the Trumpeter Swans coming in to the pond.  All of the background noise is RWBL.

Mike Taylor
Bollinger County

The Missouri Birding Society's Wild Bird Discussion Forum

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