It's the week of Thanksgiving, a time for showing love and respect for the blessed things in our lives. This is a time when we pay special tribute to the earth and all her life-giving benefits. But every day can become a day of giving thanks. Every day I am thankful to have the experiences in the natural world that I share with you, my readers.
The warm weather is fading a little more each day. This morning there was a thick frost, as temperatures had dropped into the low 20s for the first time in about a week. It sure made the birds hungry, because everyone was at the feeders at sunrise. It gave me a chance to see what birds are in my area, and who might sow up at the feeders this winter. A quick count included 13 chickadees, 8 white-breasted nuthatches, 1 red-breasted nuthatch, 20 juncos, 5 downy woodpeckers, 6 cardinals, 12 blue jays, 25 goldfinches, 4 purple finches, 2 tufted titmouse and 3 fat gray squirrels. I limit them to 2 gallons of mixed sunflower seed and cracked corn each day. If the weather is extra harsh, I'll spread out another gallon of seed in the late afternoon.
Having wild birds near me through the long winter is a big reason to be thankful. They will bring me joy, even on the dreariest of days.
Perched at the top of a tall spruce tree, a rough-legged hawk searches the grass below for a vole. His keen eyesight helps him detect the slightest movement in the thick grass. The top of the tree sags a little from his weight (two pounds) as his sharp, yellow talons hold firm to the branch.
The rough-legged hawk looks similar in size to a red-tailed hawk, and their plumage is similar. In flight, the rough-leg appears larger and has a habit of hovering in mid-air while hunting over open ground. Rough-legs may be observed in various color phases, from nearly all white to almost completely black. The have a distinctive barred tail and dark wrist patches on the underside of their wings. Their legs are feathered down to their feet, which are rather small for a hawk of this size.
Rough-legged hawks are winter visitors to the northern U.S. Their summer homes are on the open tundras of northern Canada where they build their nests and raise their young on the ground. When vole and lemming populations are down, the rough-legged hawks move further south. I've seen only three of these interesting hawks so far this winter, but it's early so the season may bring more.
A flock of about two hundred red-winged blackbirds stopped to rest in the yard, to my delight. They were probably on migration from somewhere up north and just needed a little break and some food. They stayed for an hour, filling the trees with songs. These are probably the last red-winged blackbirds I will see until they return in the spring.
This morning, while on a short walk, I heard the familiar "chirp" of a robin from deep in the woods. A few robins occasionally spend the winter here, but it's likely I won't hear another one until late next February or early March.
I was outside at noon when I heard the call of a bluebird. I looked up and saw five of them pass over, heading south. These hardy little thrushes are not an uncommon sight here through November. My latest sighting for these birds is December 10th, in 1999.
Next time you go out and feel the cold, crisp air on your cheeks, enjoy the comfortable feeling your fingers have in warm gloves. Notice the tingle at the end of your nose and the sight of your frozen breath on your next walk down nature's (wintry) trail.
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