The lovely goldfinch provides beauty through the cold, gray winter

The lovely goldfinch provides beauty through the cold, gray winter

I was up at five-thirty and glad to see there still wasn’t any snow on the ground. Not quite ready for it yet, I guess. My glee was short-lived when it started snowing around six thirty. I got the bird feeders squared away, then stood in the kitchen window to see who were among the first hungry arrivals. Of course, it was those early birds, the cardinals, who showed up just before dawn, followed by the juncos, who had spent the night in the brush pile. The next to appear were a few goldfinches and nuthatches followed by some chickadees, woodpeckers and blue jays. They all were eager to get something to eat after a long, cold night with snow now falling all around them. A single, dark-colored bird caught my eye. I wasn’t quite sure who he was. The camera zoom told me that he wasn’t a starling, but a rusty blackbird in his winter plumage. A moment later, another appeared on the same tree branch and watched the other birds feeding below them. I watched them for a long while. They flew to the birdseed on the ground only twice before a passing car scared them away. I might not see them again, but I’ll keep an eye out.

This three-year-old buck is looking for love in all the wrong places (on the highway, for one)

This three-year-old buck is looking for love in all the wrong places (on the highway, for one)

Speaking of keeping an eye out, each of the past four mornings I’ve seen a couple of whit-tailed does crossing the meadow. They always seem to be going somewhere. They haven’t stopped to eat or drink from the stream before they disappear into the woods across the valley. The three this morning were moving a little faster than the others had moved. The reason for their hasty retreat appeared on the opposite side of the valley; a big buck was following their scent. He moved a little slower through the tall grass meadow than had the does, but he was following his nose and moving steadily along. I love to watch the way the dear play their games this time of year, when they are more predictable, which helps my chances of getting a better look at them

It got cold Friday night: the kind of cold that makes you take notice. The kind of cold that hurts. Saturday morning, the thermometer said 5 degrees and my eyes saw an inch of new snow. It seems a little early to get temperatures that will freeze the ground. That kind of cold usually doesn’t come until the first or second week in December, and that’s pretty much how it feels now in mid-November. Then again, the weather didn’t seem to bother a flock of 25 robins that had landed along the grassy roadside in front of the house. They seemed to have found bits of something good as they pecked through the grass. I can’t remember the last time I saw that many robins when it was only ten degrees outside. I’m sure they were heading south, but they sure seemed to be taking their time about it.

The great white tundra swans have been passing through the area. Their high-pitched calls stir my soul as they pass over in the night. They stay near the Mississippi River Valley until the first week of December, when it gets cold enough to freeze both water and ground. That’s when they head southeast to the Carolinas. This year, the cold came three weeks early, so many of the swans have gone.

It would take quite an artist to recreate the beauty of a November sunset

It would take quite an artist to recreate the beauty of a November sunset

There is no better way to end a day than by pausing to watch a sunset. I’ve always believed that some of the best shows come at the end of a November day. The darkness comes much earlier now and the days are much shorter but there is always the sunset. The early winter landscape has a beauty all of its own, with snowy boarders on frozen ponds and frosty foliage all around. It’s beautiful, but the relentless cold will make it redundant over the next six months.

There are about thirty slate-colored juncos in the yard during the day. They spend most of their time picking up cracked corn on the ground. I call them the winter birds because they don’t spend the summer here.

Birds not quite of a feather peck at the suet feeder outside my window

Birds not quite of a feather peck at the suet feeder outside my window

It was nice to get a picture of a male downy woodpecker and a male hairy woodpecker at the suet feeder together. It gave me a chance to see the size difference between the two. The hairy looks almost exactly like his smaller cousin, except for size. They both have bright red cap on their heads. The little female downy (who wears no hat) waited patiently for her turn at the suet from a nearby branch. Ah, you don’t have to wear red to be beautiful. A pretty goldfinch watched from a tree branch, as striking as the woodpeckers.

Saturday evening, the flying squirrels seemed to be making twice as much ruckus as normal at the bird feeder. When I peeked out the window to see what they were up to, I was surprised to count nine of the pixie-like squirrels on the platform feeder. First time I’d ever seen so many at once. Winter’s surprises are where you find them.

Naturally yours,

Dan