The other day I saw a shivering winter goldfinch on the feeder. Today his whole extended family and all their friends showed up too! Their little drab olive green bodies mobbing the black oil sunflower seed. They flitter and twitter, never sitting still even when perched. There must have been over 40 of them. It makes me smile when the winter flock shows up. All the fuss and muss and cheery noise. It’s like a part on the bird feeder. The cats sit in the window enraptured as well. I know they will stick around for a few days, then move on to somewhere else, but for now, they are here and they bring happiness on their wings.
Although we have had some bone-chilling cold spells (-15 degrees Fahrenheit in the morning), the winter is actually a series of freezes and thaws. It gets cold, the lakes and creeks freeze solid on top, then it thaws and rushing brown water breaks up the ice and tumbles it downstream. Ice blocks, layered blue and white, coated in rusty brown silt, ranging in size from car to fist pile up along the banks, pile up in the middle on rock bars and other obstructions. When the water recedes the ice blocks make a moonscape in the creek bed. A fairy tale giant child’s block set dumped on the ground and ignored. The ice is fascinating to study, and stirs the imagination; if I were only six inches tall, I could explore those temporary ice caves. I know the ice will pile up more then eventually melt and wash away, but I do like watching the ice pile up in the creek.
Early this morning, I filled the black oil sunflower seed feeder before heading off to work. Upon arriving home, I noticed the snow covered walkway to the front stairs was completely trampled by tiny bird feet. I looked around, the whole area around the feeder, the paving stone at the bottom of the stairs, the path, and even a large portion of the driveway was covered in small bird prints. There were so many of them, tracks on top of tracks, that individual prints were completely indiscernible. Also, the black oil seed feeder is empty! The Goldfinch flock has definitely been here! When I finally came inside, my husband asked if I had seen all the bird tracks in the snow. He was amazed at how a group of small birds could make an area of snow look thoroughly trampled. Twenty or so tiny birds fluttering around non-stop for a few hours until the feeder is empty will do that. I imagine their twittering and rustling. I have not seen the flock yet, but they are obviously here.
This morning when looking out the front window to see the early birds on the feeder, there was a small drab dark olive colored bird with a wing bar. Oh cool! The winter Goldfinch flock is here!
Many years ago when I first saw a winter Goldfinch, I spent over an hour pouring through bird guides trying to figure out what it was. I unsatisfactorily settled on some sort of gnat-catcher because of its color and size. But many other factors did not fit, such as time of year and what it was eating. The mysterious birds stayed a few days and then left. Later in the spring, I saw more of them, but now they were in various stages of changing color into their summer plumage. Aha! Not gnat-catchers, but Goldfinches!
Every winter a flock shows up for a couple of days, cleans out the feeders every day they are here, then moves on to somewhere else. It is a joy to receive the annual visit of the winter Goldfinches. Spring is still a long way off, but these little birds know how to party in the bird world, even in sub-zero temperatures apparently. This morning there is only one little finch, but I suspect it will have plenty of friends very soon.
Walking up the hollow and back, a peaceful two mile walk that takes me up a narrow, twisting, steep one lane dirt road along a steep, narrow, rocky, plunging creek that empties into the bigger creek we live next to. The deep freeze of this winter has both creeks completely frozen over with fantastical ice formations. As I walked by an area where the creek runs wide, shallow, and flat for a few yards, I notice the ice is snow covered and down the middle of it is a line of foot prints in the snow. There are many animals active in these woods in January and I’ve seen numerous prints in the snow while walking here. I can not easily (or safely) get off the road and down to the creek to examine the prints, but from up here I am guessing deer. The line starts upstream a little ways and from the other side, the steps go around a couple of rocks and then head straight downstream until the flat area of creek slides downhill again where the prints disappear into the forest from whence they came. On the way home, I stop on the bridge over the larger creek where the road gets a little wider and turns to pavement. There I see several strings of tracks crossing the ice over the swimming hole. Coyote maybe, as they look dog like from the bridge, and I have heard them howling mournfully and yipping in the night recently. Where are they now, all those coyote and deer on this cold darkening evening? Do they hide in the woods and see me slip quietly past on the road, while I only see the impressions of where they used to be?
Walking up the hollow and back, sun setting on another cold winter day, I am completely fascinated by the ice. The creek is covered, completely in all but the fastest moving spots. Water has flowed over the ice coating and frozen into what looks like flow-stone inside a cave. Water has flowed over rocks and frozen in layers expanding until the rocks are covered with lumpy ice. Hues of blue, green, grey, purple, and white shimmer in the shadows of the weak setting sunlight, ice slipping, sliding, flowing, freezing, layers on layers, rippled and ruffled, sculpted into a frigid alien landscape. The sound of moving flowing water is muted and muffled by the layers of ice that can not tame the gurgling force of moving water. We have had several days where temperatures did not raise above single digits and several nights of negative temperatures. This deep freeze polar vortex winter has created a whole mystical frozen world where the creek used to be!
This morning Old Man Max Cat was sitting statuesque inches from the wood-stove, eyes half closed, soaking in the glowing warmth. I laid down on the rug and called to Lilly Cat to come do her fire dance. She came running downstairs and did three joyful laps around my prone form before settling into a fuzzy love pile nestled against my stomach, the fire warming her belly. Tiger Cat wandered by to see what everybody was up to and flopped down at my head, stretched his legs out long pawing at my nose and lips. We all stayed there basking in the fire light and heat when Shadow Cat delicately stepped around Tiger then sat opposite Max mirroring his posture, nose inches from the stove. What better way to spend some time on a cold blustery winter morning than to warm your bones next to a cozy wood-stove surrounded by contented cats!