There were quite a few robins and bluebirds passing through Saturday and Sunday and I suspected that they might be moving ahead a of a weather front from the northwest. That night I heard the calls of the Tundra Swans as they passed over in the darkness. The birds were telling me that there was going to be a change in the weather, and, sure enough, the snow came Monday morning. A cozy warm feeling came over me as I watched the snow falling. Guess it felt good to know I had carried in enough firewood to stay comfortable for a few days.
The first snow fall is always a beautiful sight but it’s hard to adjust, seeing the landscape change to winter in only an hour. The ground was still fairly warm but there was still a half-inch clinging to everything at sunset. I was watching the hungry little Juncos on the ground under the bird feeder when in an instant they all flew to a nearby brush pile. The danger they were fleeing from was perched in the branches above, a shrike. It’s always hard to get a decent picture of a northern shrike but you can at least see what they look like. About the size of a robin, hooked beak, and able to catch and eat mice and little birds. In typical shrike fashion, he didn’t sit still very long for a photo, and then he was gone, disappearing into the falling snow. I had over twenty northern shrike sightings last winter, a good winter for watching these mysterious little birds of prey.
The temperature dropped Monday night, which is not unusual following snowfall—the old thermometer on the back porch read 15. That’s almost cold enough to freeze the ground; no wonder I feel like I should have my gloves on. Sometimes I like to drive the two miles to town at sunup for a morning paper. I’m glad I had put a towel over the windshield so I wouldn’t have to scrape the frost off the glass. The doors were a little frozen and hard to open because the melting snow had frozen them shut. These are things I need to learn to cope with for the next six months, but then challenges are what life is all about. The Kickapoo River had really taken on a wintry look, the dark water clashing with the new white snow on the river banks. I think the river is a beautiful sight regardless of what time of year it might be, even in the dead of winter when there doesn’t appear to be any sign of life around.
The snow had made the apple tree look almost festive, how it stuck to the leaves and red apples. It’s sometimes sad to see winter come, so I always try to see the beauty it brings—the simple natural beauty that we often take for granted in our daily lives.
I was happy to see the goldfinches at the window feeder Wednesday morning. It had been another cold night and about twenty of the little finches crowded together eating the sunflower seeds. I’ve seen only a few goldfinches the past few weeks in the valley until this morning. They always seem to remember where to come for a free meal. Most of them have lost their bright yellow summer colors but they are very pretty nonetheless.
The blue jays are also gathering around the bird feeders; I counted twenty-seven this morning. At least one of them is a very good mimic and is able to duplicate the calls of several other birds. The scream of a red-tailed hawk seems to be one of the blue jay’s favorite mimic calls. Last week I tried to spot the yellow-bellied sapsucker who was calling from the treetops. I finally saw the blue jay who was doing his best imitation of a sapsucker. He sounded pretty convincing and had me fooled, for a while. Yesterday I was surprised to hear the begging calls of a young rose-breasted grosbeak. It would be very strange to see one of these summer birds here so late so I followed the calls to the other side of the house. I guess I wasn’t too surprised to see a blue jay sitting in a lilac bush doing his best to mimic the cries of a young grosbeak. It will be fun to hear what other voices the blue jay can come up with.
I don’t understand what has gotten into the chipmunks. They should have been in their winter beds weeks ago. The temperature was only twenty degrees when the sun finally hit the house this morning and a little chipmunk was gathering up sunflower seeds from the tray feeder. I don’t recall ever seeing a chippie out and about when it’s this cold; maybe he’s as confused as I am. The woodchuck, too, was out of his warm bed this morning to find something to eat. I don’t remember ever seeing a woodchuck as late as the twelfth of November. Just add it to the growing list of things I’ve never seen before that are happening in the world of nature.
It’s going to be a long winter; it’s only November and already the landscape looks about the same as it will look next March. Even without all the lovely lush green leaves and grass, the Kickapoo Valley landscape inspires me to take a picture. The countryside may appear to be asleep, but for me it is like taking a picture of Sleeping Beauty.
The two sandhill cranes haven’t left. I saw them today standing on the new ice on a marsh pond. I wondered why they were still here where it’s so cold when they could be somewhere further south where it’s warmer.
I always see cedar waxwings this time of year. They land together in flocks of 20 to 50 birds and always seem to be moving from place to place. The flock of thirty waxwings that lit on a tall tree near the yard was there only a few minutes before flying off up the valley. I love these soft-spoken, gentle little birds, but they are very shy and difficult to photograph.
This is a great time to get out for a refreshing walk, especially at night in the light of the moon.