the feeder report

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?

ebb & flow

this autumn season has been a series of tiny vignettes, none of them poignant or significant enough to get me writing about them. there was the hour i spent being a human chickadee feeder, standing with my arms out, palms full of seed, and letting the little wonders take feed from my hands. that was the day i discovered the leucistic chickadee in my flock, its tiny black eyes starkly beady in its completely white face. there was the evening that i walked down the driveway to move some fallen pine branches when i startled a tree full of roosting juvenile ravens, sending twenty-five or thirty of them out of the ash tree they were just settling in, their grumpy croaks and taffeta wing-beats receding deeper into the woods.

all these little moments got me thinking about the season, though, about how autumn is when everything is dialed back, slowed down, everything becomes somehow more personal.

in spring, everything comes bursting out in a tidal wave of lust and gluttony. you can almost hear the roar of things springing out of the ground, the buzz of incoming swarms of insects, the birds sweeping back north to eat and nest and raise a brood or two or three. i feel that if i was quiet and still, i could hear a steady pulse, a creaking of growth, through the cacophony of possibilities. there is a drumbeat in spring, dizzying, overwhelming, and contagious.

it pounds on through the summer until early september, when it starts to fade and retreat. the bugs and birds melt away. the grass stops growing. the fleshy summer foliage shrinks and becomes brittle and brown. then the trees, after a brief riot of color, drop their leaves. when the wind blows in fall, the mighty swoosh of a tree in full leaf that sounds like a distant waterfall, becomes a soft clacking of twigs and creaking of boughs. funny that you don’t hear those plaintive sighs from the trees in a spring or summer storm, only in fall. the deer and the turkeys flock up, move down toward the valleys. the bears and skunks go to ground. in the vast silence that’s left, there open up moments where nature feels more accessible, more one-on-one, moments where you can touch the world and it touches back, because it finally has the time to do so.

raven morning

yesterday’s slimy storm is over, leaving a shallow layer of slippery snow over the solid ice that was there on sunday. navigating our long, twisty driveway is a matter of faith and four-wheel-drive on mornings like this. i had just pulled out onto the road when i noticed a dark fluttering ahead. crows, i assumed, even though our crow population is pretty thin in the winter at this latitude. likely they’ve found a doughnut or some squirrel entrails or something equally edible on the road. the two dark birds flew up into the trees over the road as we got near and lo! ravens! i slowed and scrunched down to look up into the branches over the roadway. the first bird was in a dark-branched tree, difficult to see in the indifferent morning light. the second, a little further on, was perched in a white birch, midnight feathers against white-grey bark. as the jeep passed under it, the raven, a claw on two different branches, spread its birdy little legs and ducked its head down to gaze down at us with as much interest as we had gazing up at it. absolutely magical.

snipe hunt

i’ve got several posts in the works, but spring has definitely sprung in vermont and there is no longer enough time in the day to do all the things i need to do, all the things i want to do, plus sleep and pee. until i get a rainy day with no Mom:Chauffeur duties, have a haiku about one of my favourite little three-season birds, which is back in my summer pasture and sending me his haunting noctural morse codes:


when night comes, snipe winnow

not golden grain but night air:

fanning the starlight.