The frozen red berries of the highbush cranberry bush will be spring food for songbirds

The frozen red berries of the highbush cranberry bush will be spring food for songbirds

Folks around here have been doing a little complaining about the weather lately. I haven’t seen anybody pulling out their hair yet but this winter’s long cold spell is starting to get to some of us. For some of us older folks, the challenge is to ward off “cabin fever.” Even I have been reluctant to go outside for any length of time and have limited my walks to two a day. Truth is I don’t mind a walk on a cold day as long as the wind isn’t blowing. The temperature fell to -28° F  last night with a daytime high of -2°. But, you know, the sun was shining and there was no wind, so I was quite comfortable doing my outside chores this morning.

I can always tell how cold it has been through the winter by the amount of firewood I use. Up to and through the month of January, I’ve used twice as much firewood as I usually do. It’s extra work for these old bones carrying firewood and water to the house, but I welcome the exercise. I can’t help but notice the little birds that never seem to complain no matter what the weather is. I’m sure they feel the pain that the cold can bring but they don’t fret about how cold it is because they are too busy living in the moment.

Cardinals and frozen apples make for a pretty picture as January winds down

Cardinals and frozen apples make for a pretty picture as January winds down

The frozen apples still cling to the tree. I’m sure they would fall if they could thaw just a bit. It takes a sharp beak to peck into a frozen apple and they don’t look too appealing to a pair of cardinals. The beautiful bright red berries of the highbush cranberry bushes look good enough to eat. The problem is that they are frozen solid and the birds won’t eat them; it would be like swallowing tiny red ice cubes. When the berries thaw in early spring, the wild birds will be more than happy to eat them.

I knew it was just a matter of time before the wild turkeys found the bird feeders. After all, it’s been cold and there is about two feet of snow on the ground, so the turkeys are not shy about coming to the birdfeeder for a free hand-out. They didn’t show up a few at a time but rather all at once—all 30 of them. It took ‘em about fifteen minutes to snap up every seed in sight before trudging off through the snow in search of something else to eat. Don’t get me wrong, I love turkeys and I love watching them but I can’t afford to keep 30 wild turkeys in cracked corn all winter. It can be a real dilemma; I got lucky because they have not been back – yet – and it’s been five days.

Cracking and eating a sunflower seed, the tufted titmouse proves resilient in winter's cold

Cracking and eating a sunflower seed, the tufted titmouse proves resilient in winter’s cold

The little tufted titmouse is always fun to watch on a cold day as he repeatedly flies to the same branch in the sunshine to open his black oil sunflower seed. Its well below zero, so he tries to huddle over his feet while holding the little seed between his toes. He twists on the hull with his beak until it opens. It will take a lot of trips to the sunny branch before he fills his tiny tummy. The blue jay also crouches down over his toes to keep them warm. Can you imagine what it would be like to go barefoot outside all winter?

The woodpecker usually gets the best place at the feeder, but a female downy woodpecker patiently awaited her turn.

Since the snow got a little deeper the deer have been browsing on weed seeds, flower tops and the tender ends of branches. The rule is, if it tastes good, eat it. When they come into the yard each evening, they head right for the flower gardens. They rarely ever touch the flowers in the summer but the dried, brown flower heads are a treat in January. They even strip the dry leaves off the phlox. Their favorite winter flower treats are the dried zinnia tops and the coneflowers.

A golden eagle, fairly rare in Wisconsin, dropped in for a valley visit this week

A golden eagle, fairly rare in Wisconsin, dropped in for a valley visit this week

Thursday, just after sun up and I noticed an eagle soaring low at the far end of the valley. Another eagle soon joined him and they flew across the meadow towards the house but stopped about 200 yards away and went down to the ground, out of sight behind the tall cedar trees. At first I thought I was watching a couple of young bald eagles who had probably found a deer carcass. I let the camera bring them up closer and I was surprised to see a pair of adult golden eagles in the view finder. It wasn’t easy to get a decent picture of a moving target at 200 yards, but I got a few that made it clear what kind of eagles they were. I saw them on and off for about a half hour but they never came any closer, then they sailed off to the south. Guess I’ll be paying a little more attention to the eagles I see in the area. Adult golden eagles appear to be almost black and sometimes show white or gray at the base of a dark tail. The golden feathers of their nape (back of the head and neck) may be very noticeable. A bald eagle’s legs are feathered only to their knees while the golden eagle feathers go all the way down to their ankles. It has been said that golden eagles do not feed on dead deer or fish, but I have a little trouble believing that.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve seen a fox squirrel, but a gray squirrel comes to the window feeder each day. I noticed her tail looked a little thin on the end. Could be she’s been lining a warm nest with hair from her tail for some soon-to-arrive baby squirrels. The early signs of spring are wherever you find them, even at the end of a squirrel’s tail.

The frozen apples on the apple tree finally met their match when a starling, with a long sharp beak, was able to peck a hole in the sweet fruit. Ah—apple popsicle! Yum!

Naturally Yours,

Dan