The wild birds are very busy at the bird feeders this morning. The winds came out of the north last night, and skies were clear, and a hard frost greeted the morning. I woke to the song of a white-throated sparrow who was feeding on the ground with a dozen juncos—all birds who weren't here yesterday. A fancy pair of red-bellied woodpeckers also made a visit to the feeders; they chatter to each other from the trees.
My thermometer read 27 degrees at sunup, and there was a thin layer of ice in a pail of water near the back door. A chipmunk scurried across the frost-covered porch, his cheek pouches bulging with cracked corn. Soon the chipmunks will disappear until spring.
For the past two days I've seen flocks of grackels passing overhead as they move south. Other birds moving in flocks are robins, blue jays, warblers and bluebirds. The first hard frosts are the best days of the year to see migrating birds. Nothing gets them moving faster than a sharp drop in temperature.
I've been feeding wild birds since I was a young boy, and there's no doubt it's been a big influence in my life. A simple bird feeder has taught me more about nature than anything else I've encountered. I've derived endless hours of pleasure simply watching the birds.
I've lived in some pretty isolated places during my adult life, and the wild birds have soothed my loneliness in the dead of winter. I give them no reason to fear me, and we actually build a trust between us, much like a family would.
The willows and box elder trees along the creek are virtually bare. Their tender leaves can't take a hard frost, and many shrivel and fall the very day after. For the first time since leaf out, I can see a long ways up the creek. It's a good place to watch for deer, who were hidden all summer by the dense foliage.
It's sad to see that all the lovely flowers have been reduced to dried stalks, dried leaves and colorless flower heads. This summer's flower show was one of the best I've ever had, though, and for that I'm truly grateful.
That's how nature evolves, with joyful arrivals and fond farewells. While I'll miss the flowers, it's nice to have the birds now staying closer to the house.
I got to hear a Screech owl singing tonight, not far from the house. It seems I often hear them just after the frost comes. I doubt it's a coincidence—they just show up at the same time each year. The little owl must change his diet from insects, frogs and snakes, now that it's colder. Screech owls are very adaptable hunters, and can catch mice, voles, and small sleeping birds. The birds that come to the feeders may sleep tucked away in a nearby brush pile, and the owl knows that's a good place to catch a meal. His role in the food chain is just one part of nature's system. I hope I'll hear him often this winter, in an otherwise quiet landscape. The stillness can be soothing but can also make you feel very alone. The Screech owl's song gives me a sense of relief, reminding me there are still living things out in the cold night.
The long winter ahead will be a challenge for all the wild things, myself included! But there are birds and beautiful snows to look forward to, and knowing what joys spring will bring will get me through.
Naturally yours, Dan
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