Monday, December 8, 2008

A light snow had fallen yesterday and last night, so despite shoveling and sweeping several times over the weekend, I was up early to allow time to shovel again before work. I dressed up in my warm layers, donned my old Steger Mukluks, and stepped out onto the front porch, inhaling the morning. It was about 15°, cloudy, still mostly dark, and calm. Perfect weather to be outside shoveling. Having watched my small bird feeder the last few mornings and noticing most of the birds did not arrive until 8am or later, I did not expect any birds to be out yet at this hour, and was taken by surprise when a chorus of birdsong filled the air above me. I searched in vain for the source, a flock of juncos, but could not make them out through the dusky light. I checked the amount of snowfall since we last shoveled – about ½”, and decided I could use a broom for most of the task, which suited me better anyway, since I am loathe to create loud noises so early in the morning. I grabbed my broom and began a rhythmic cadence: step right, sweep, step left, sweep. Step, sweep, step, sweep. I paused when I noticed fresh tracks in the snow crossing the driveway and pondered their source – was this the small dog that lived next door? And this – one of the many grey squirrels who scamper about outside my front window and entertain me so thoroughly? The tiny tracks in front of the garage door I assumed to be mouse tracks, and was glad to see they appeared to have checked out the length of the door and then wandered away when they could find no entrance. Cardinals now joined the morning dialogue, followed soon after by nuthatches, chickadees and even a few goldfinches. How does anyone living in the country ever feel alone with all of this life and activity fluttering about? I stopped my sweeping and refilled the small feeder to reward those who were already up and about, chattering around me, then continued on down the driveway – step, sweep, step, sweep. It is not surprising to me that many eastern traditions utilize sweeping as a form of meditation. My steps and sweeping and breathing all flowed outwards together until I lost track of time and place. Before I knew it, the task was done. I silently offered up a prayer of gratitude, for this beautiful place in the country, for powdery snow, fresh air, meditative exercise, and life stirring all around me. Blessed be!

Friday, December 5, 2008

I have discovered, to my delight, that by putting out a small bird feeder hung on a plant hook just into the edge of the woods, I can increase the level of wildlife activity in my front yard by about 1000%. my little copper roofed feederWhen I first tried putting up my little feeder, the chipmunks were still awake and busy collecting food for the long cold winter, and they quickly realized how to jump onto the feeders and carry all the seeds away in less than an hour. But now that the chipmunks have gone to their cozy hideouts for the winter, I once again tried putting up the feeder to see what it might attract. red-bellied woodpeckerI didn’t have to wait long. Within an hour, chickadees and nuthatches were frequent visitors. In less than an afternoon, the variety had grown to include downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, purple finches, goldfinches, juncos, blue jays, and, to my utter delight, a half-dozen pairs of cardinals! I still worry about the red and grey squirrels learning the chipmunks’ tricks, but so far they are minding their manners from the ground. I am scoping out some trees however as possible sites for stringing cables for hanging the feeder higher off the ground if necessary. Grey squirrelYesterday I watched all of this marvelous activity spell-bound, but sad that my little digital camera does not have the zoom capacity to get any good shots of the birds. So last night I asked my husband if I could borrow his digital Canon EOS with the BIG lense. With this baby mounted on my tripod, I could set it up and point it at the feeder and then wait for the birds to flock in. I set it all up by 8:00am this morning and waited. I even put some seeds on pavers on the ground, for those varieties that can’t or don’t like to cling to feeders. I was not disappointed! All of the activity of the day before ensued immediately. In the middle of the commotion of blue jays and chickadees, something larger caught the corner of my eye – a pileated woodpecker, which landed right on the tree by the feeder! Pileated woodpeckersI went crazy snapping photos. I finally shut off the camera and went back to work, but the next time I looked up, TWO pileateds were clinging to the same tree! Again I went crazy with the camera. The first woodpecker enlarged a hole in the tree and stared intently into the hole, sticking its beak and tongue into the crevice to lap up the bugs inside. Suddenly, it flared its wings and moved sideways. I wondered what was up, so I glanced down the tree and witnessed a red squirrel advancing towards the bird which was at least five times its own size. Taking offense to a squirrelThey maneuvered in this way for awhile, the squirrel advancing slowly, the pileated spreading its wings and moving away, until finally it tired of the game and flew off to another tree. Satisfied its territory was safe, the squirrel retreated back down the tree to its position under the feeder. But the pileated was not about to forget about its tasty treats – soon it was back again at the same hole, pecking, lapping and cautiously keeping an eye on the squirrel. Blue jayBy about 9:30am the activity had died down a bit. Chickadees still visited the feeder, but the frenzy of “first breakfast” seemed to have passed. Which reminded me that my stomach was growling, as I had skipped my own first breakfast for the chance to capture the activity in the yard. So now I will fly off to the kitchen to take a gander at what tasty treats I can find there. I won’t have to worry about “eating on the fly,” or protecting my morsels from a hungry squirrel. I can sit down and savor, eating slowing and enjoying both the food and the ever-changing view outside my front window.

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