the birds have been sparse this winter. not that there aren’t a metric tonne of chickadees at the feeders every day, but there isn’t a lot of variety out there. a half dozen blue jays, the occasional nuthatch (white bellied and red), two sizes of woodpecker (hairy and downy), a few too many mourning doves, and, of course, chickadees. every once in a while i see a tufted titmouse or a couple of juncos, but not often. usually just before a big storm or during an extended cold snap. last weekend there was a squeaking susurrus of cedar waxwings in the big pine tree out back. but there are no finches (either purple or gold), no crossbills or grosbeaks or cardinals or redpolls or anything different at all. normally we have all of these things (the cardinal was a new arrival last winter) with some regularity, but this year, it’s all chickadees, all the time.

we have a handful of squirrels, both red and gray. the squirrels here are country squirrels, cagey and frenetic. they run for the woods if you step out the door. the grays come in the early mornings, after the dogs have been out for their first pee of the day. the reds come later. well, i say “reds”, but we have a strange trio of red squirrels: one red, one gray, one black. i have mistaken the black squirrel for a weasel more than once, but it is, indeed, a squirrel. of all the squirrels, it is the most feral, the most nervous. i’ve yet to get a photo of the thing, because any movement from the house sends it dashing away. i suppose when you’re a midnight black animal in a world of white, that’s probably a good plan.

the deer, which were raiding the feeders a bit earlier in the winter, seem to have dried up. they move down into the valleys by midwinter and i think we’ve seen the last of them until spring.

the feeders attract rodents at night and a barred owl was hanging out in the maple tree, lurking for mice, but i haven’t seen her lately. perhaps she depopulated the rodent population enough that she put herself out of a feed source.

other than escaped horses, the only other thing to frequent the feeders is my min pin, who gulps down seed like she has never eaten anything before in her life. i haven’t been broadcasting seed for the ground feeding birds as a result: they can clean up what the jays and chickadees drop and that’s less black oil seed for my obese little doggie to gobble. she also enjoys a nice evening round of “eatta mouse!”, but that’s less fun since the owl did her damage. she still goes out and noses around the rocks and rose canes, but gives up sooner. it mustn’t smell as mouse-y down there as it once did.

i wonder if this relative quiet in the bird department is a harbinger of climate change or just a fluke. perhaps it’s a reprieve from the record diversity of spring and summer, which kept us hopping trying to keep the feeders full. i’m not asking for a pine grosbeak or a northern shrike, although we’ve had both in the past. i’m not even asking for the plagues of redpolls we had two winters ago. but please, perhaps, the occasional purple finch to break up the monotony of chickadees?

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