I have some advice for anyone who likes to go for a walk down Nature's trail when the temperatures are below zero (F). If you're like me, keeping your feet warm is your main concern. I depend on warm, wool socks and boots that don't fit so tight. Of course, it also helps to keep moving. When I got back from my morning walk, the chickadees were there at the porch, waiting for me. Until then, I was thinking of going in and getting my feet warm by the stove. It was still pretty dark when I left for a walk, and I hadn't put out any seed yet. The chattering chickadees let me know they were ready for breakfast. All of a sudden, my cold feet didn't feel so cold after all, and I stepped onto the porch to get some black sunflower seeds. I held out both palms full of seed, and three chickadees fluttered down and lit in my hands. I fed them from my hands for 10 to 15 minutes, then put the rest of the seed on the feeders. The blue jays have been patiently waiting nearby, being too shy to come too close to me. It's a little odd, because they are cousins to the chickadees. How bad can the rest of a cold winter day be, if you start it off with a chat with the birds? With a little patience on a cold morning, anyone can have a tiny bird in their hand.
It was close to my bedtime, and I was checking the woodstove one last time, when the phone rang. My mother's gentle voice at the other end said, "Listen; just listen." She was holding the phone out the open door so I could hear the hoots of a pair of Great horned owls. They were perched in a large weeping willow tree, and it was too dark for her to make them out, but she sure enough heard them. It's time for the Great horned owls to start their courtship before mating in a few weeks. The male, who may only be half the size of the female, has the lower of the two songs. A pair of owls singing to each other in late December is the first sign of spring.
The white-tailed deer have had to make some adjustments in their eating habits since the snow covered the ground. All the green, grassy places where they prefer to graze are now covered with a foot of snow. There is still grass and corn to eat, if they want it bad enough to paw through the snow to reach it. The deer in this valley have been browsing along the edge of the woods, eating the tender ends of shrubs and bushes. It's going to be a long winter for them, if December was any indication of what the rest of winter will be like. At night, their ghostly figures can be seen in the snow-covered garden. The doe and her yearling search for anything edible, then slowly step over to the creek for a drink. I've never put out any food for the deer, but they do find a few scraps of seed under the bird feeders. It's always a pleasure to see the gentle deer; they are always welcome here.
The annual Christmas bird count was done last Saturday, with six happy birders eager to search for any birds. The final tally wasn't in yet, but it will be around 35 different species of wild birds seen. Some of the notable sightings included a Yellow-shafted flicker, Red-tailed hawks, Cooper's hawk, Northern shrike, Harrier, Kingfisher, Cedar waxwings, and a robin. It's always a good time, spending hours with friends while watching for wild birds. It's a good way to introduce kids and beginners to the beautiful world of the birds. I have many fond memories of Christmas bird counts from years' past, dating back to 1954. It's like a treasure hunt for me, and I look forward to it every December.
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