There's no doubt in anyone's mind that winter is for real this year. The reminders are consistent, with little mercy for anyone who can still smell the summer flowers. It's been below zero every night in the valley for two weeks, and last night a snow shower brought ten more inches of light, fluffy snow. I'm grateful for these past sunny days, but the temperature doesn't get much above ten degrees.
Down from the woods came five wild turkeys, trudging along single file through the deep snow. Their legs were barely visible in the new layer of snow. In no time they are in the yard and heading for the bird feeders. When winter passes a bitter, cold hand over the land and covers everything under deep snow, it challenges all who live outside. It's early in the season, and already the wildlife feel the pressure to find something to eat--to stay warm, find food, and all will be fine. The turkeys snap up every speck of birdseed in about 15 minutes and walk down to the creek one behind the other. They had eaten all there was, and were off in search for something else to eat. I'm convinced there isn't enough birdseed in the world to satisfy a flock of hungry turkeys. I don't mind if they come and then leave when the food is gone, but I can't afford to keep their crops full for the next three and a half months. When the turkeys are at the platform feeders, all the other wild birds come to the four window feeders. It gets a little crowded but they eat together with little trouble. It's nice to have so many colorful birds in the windows at once. There are 20 cardinals, 15 blue jays, a dozen woodpeckers, 25 chickadees, 8 to 10 nuthatches, 10 finches, a few tree sparrows, 30 juncos, and—oh, ya—a pair of Mourning doves. It's about the nearest thing to excitement I get around here, this time of year.
There was a new visitor at the bird feeders today. Picking up pieces of cracked corn on the ground with several juncos, was a beautiful, male, Rufus-sided towhee. I'm surprised at how small he is, not much larger than the dark juncos. In fact, if it weren't for his Rufus/orange flanks I may not have noticed him there, mixed in with the others. It's the third year in a row that a male towhee has spent the winter here. I have fed the wild birds for over 50 years, and until three years ago I'd never seen a Rufus-sided towhee here in the winter.
This is the first winter in the past five years that I haven't seen a robin or bluebird. Both were a common sight last winter, and I would see them once or twice a week. This winter I hadn't seen or heard either of these hearty thrushes until this morning. While taking a walk up the road, I heard the "chuk-chuk" of a male robin. He was hidden in the thick branches of a large cedar tree. It's a rough uphill climb through deep snow, and I wasn't wearing warm boots, so I opted to just stand and watch for him to fly out. After hearing him several times, I counted it as good enough and went on my way.
It's not often that I'm treated to the call of a Barred owl in the middle of winter. Most any other time of the year I may hear them any evening: "Who-cooks-for-youu-all." In the dead of winter, I'm lucky if I hear that call once a week in this valley. When their mating season starts in late March and early April, they will call to each other day and night. These beautiful owls are one of a few species of owl that has large dark (rather than yellow) eyes, and they spend most of their time watching for field voles.
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