The morning sun felt good as the warm rays covered me at the drawing table. I was quite comfortable, and even my feet felt warm for a change. Only a couple of feet away though, on the other side of the window, it was quite different—a sunny 9 degrees F. The birds at the feeders seemed happy and were all eating together.
I then noticed a little Deer mouse had ventured out onto a dried Morning glory vine right next to the window. I was enjoying watching him gathering the tiny black Morning glory seeds, when without warning, a Northern shrike hit the side of a window frame with a "whack!" He promptly grabbed the mouse that I was watching and flew over to a low branch on a small nearby apple tree.
My jaw dropped, and I ran over and grabbed the camera. I didn't want to waste any time so I quickly shot a few pictures with the setting on the camera as it was. I've learned that if you take time to adjust the camera settings in a situation like this, you may not get a picture at all. Things sometimes happen quickly in the natural world, and all you get is a glimpse.
Such a handsome bird is the shrike. He has the perfect contrast of black, white and gray feathers that make him look very well dressed. He has a white breast and bib and wears a black mask that matches his wings and tail. He has a coat of gray over his back and shoulders, and tops it off with a gray hat.
Like many songbirds, the shrike is carnivorous, but takes it to the next level. He can catch mice, voles, shrews, and small birds. His feet aren't really made for catching large prey, but he hangs on and quickly dispatches his meal with his powerful beak. If you ever hear the beautiful songs of the Northern shrike you will know why he is considered a song bird.
It's not every winter that the white snow birds visit the Kickapoo area but this year I have seen quite a few. I'm talking about the little ghost birds from the far north, the Snow buntings. Like feathered ghosts, they blend in with their snowy surroundings and are very difficult to spot, even in large groups. In the past I have seen flocks of several thousand, flying together like a ghostly white sheet flapping in the wind. It's a special treat to see these hardy white wonders from the north, and they stir up a lot of memories of my field notes from the past.
These long winter nights have been brutally cold and unforgiving, yet there is a certain warming quality in the beauty that prevails. The shadows that come with a sunset reveal a depth and beauty to the land that may otherwise be taken for granted. As the sky turns cobalt blue, a beautiful full moon rises above the white earth from horizon to horizon. A moonrise like this always reminds me to appreciate and respect that which is true beauty. True beauty creates more beauty, and it was proven again to me as I watched six beautiful White-tailed deer in the moonlit meadow. Even though they were a hundred yards away, I could see them interacting with each other as though it was midday. Moonlight and snow complement each other, and everything else in their midst.
Between now and next week, the forecast is calling for a little more snow, and even colder temperatures. This kind of weather can be very stressful to many birds and animals who are trying to stay warm and satisfy their lingering hunger. For their sake, I'm hoping for an extended thaw and an early spring.
Keep those bird feeders full when the mercury drops below zero.
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