December’s frigid cold continued through the first week of January—we’ve had only one day above freezing in the last six plus weeks. We’ve endured temperatures of zero to ten degrees for daytime highs and as low as -25 degrees overnight. These weather conditions make life harder for everyone, especially the wildlife.
I’m not one who needs to check the outside thermometer all the time to see what the temperature is. When I hear the steam hissing from the water kettles on the wood stove, I know its cold outside. Keeping the stove hotter so it does its job of warming the room means using more wood. Of course, that means carrying in more wood from the outside wood pile, three times more when it’s this cold.
It was five degrees below zero Monday morning and I headed down the path towards the spring to fetch a pail of water. I stopped in my tracks when I startled six robins from the spring. They come for water several times a day. I’ve counted as many as ten at one time. They seem fine with the cold as long as they have water and something to eat. They spend their days in the thick branches of the cedar trees and have been eating cedar berries and sumac berries, never coming for a free handout at the bird feeders.
All the wild birds focus on finding something to eat and staying warm. Fluffed-out feathers keep their feet from freezing as they huddle down over tiny toes. I watch the blue jays from the comfort of my warm house, yet I shiver when I think of how cold it is outside. Guess I’m not ready to trade places with the blue jay, yet.
Early Tuesday morning, I saw something I’d never seen before: a chipmunk at the bird feeder. I had to scratch my head a little, wondering what he was doing away from his warm nest when the temperature was only 10 degrees. It was the first time I’d ever seen a chipmunk here in January and the first time I’d seen one out and about in this deep cold. Two people told me they had seen an opossum and a skunk on Tuesday. It’s very unusual to see either of them out looking for food when the temperature is well below freezing. The little chipmunk was up on a window feeder a half hour later and I was able to come eye to eye with him.
Two more pairs of cardinals showed up this week as well as five more Woodpeckers, (three downy, a male hairy and a male red-bellied woodpecker). A few more mourning doves have found the cracked corn I sprinkled on the ground, bringing my dove-sighting total to 24 this winter.
The Kickapoo River has been frozen-over for the past couple of weeks and is now covered with a couple of inches of snow. Here and there I see the tracks of deer who have taken advantage of an easy way to cross the river. The little spring creek that runs through the valley is lined with white frost and lacy ice but the fast-moving water hasn’t frozen over yet.
I was surprised to see a single starling on the snow-covered ground near the house. He was all decked out in his pretty winter plumage and looked to be very hungry. He’s the first starling I’ve seen in the yard since spring. I watched as he ate some snow before flying off and I haven’t seen him since.
A nice winter walk in the moonlight sounded like a good idea even though it was very cold. I had no trouble spotting the tracks of a red fox that had followed the snow-covered path through the meadow. Ten minutes later I heard his high-pitched bark from up on the ridge and wondered if he had found a mate yet. It is the courtship season for the fox and they have other things on their mind besides the cold. I was having a little trouble with my glasses fogging over but I still was able to spot the two ghostly dark figures of a pair of coyotes as they crossed the meadow a hundred yards in front of me. They were quiet and on the move, and I’m sure they knew I was there watching them. I’ve heard their high yaps and howls the past three evenings; they, too, are feeling the tugs of love and spring in the air. A pair of coyotes can be very vocal when singing together. They often sound like the voices of six, making one believe there are more coyotes than there really are.
The mercury finally started to climb on Thursday and the pressure of the bitter cold was at last lifted. I couldn’t believe how good it felt to not have the bitter cold biting at my extremities. Friday brought a little light rain and 35 degrees. For the first time in a month I didn’t have to listen to the hissing water on the wood stove.